Tuesday, 19 September 2006

England fall just short in thriller; Rugby Union.

David Hands

THAT the World Cup final has been described as the best game of women's rugby in history will be limited consolation to England. They lost 25-17 to New Zealand in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday night, an enthralling contest that ebbed to and fro before the Black Ferns clinched their third successive title deep into injury time.

Four tries to two tells the story of a New Zealand side infinitely more dangerous in open space, but says nothing of a wonderfully committed England and the inspirational work of players such as Maggie Alphonsi and Sue Day. A converted try by Helen Clayton in the last minute of normal time reduced the deficit to a mere three points, only for New Zealand to work Amiria Marsh into the corner.

"This was certainly the best game of women's rugby I've ever seen," Rosie Williams, the managing director of the RFU for Women, said. But how England must regret their failure to score the points in the first half-hour that their territorial domination suggested were there for the taking.

Their use of Catherine Spencer at close-range scrums became too predictable and they failed to turn New Zealand's defence with tactical kicking. A penalty try, awarded after a series of scrums were collapsed on the New Zealand line, brought England back into the game, but the Black Ferns responded magnificently. "This was a fantastic final for people to watch -I'm just sorry we couldn't deliver," Jo Yapp, the England captain, said Donna Kennedy, Scotland's most-capped player, has retired after her side finished sixth in the tournament. Kennedy, 34, played in 95 of Scotland's 100 matches, the last in a 24-0 defeat by the United States in the fifth-place play-off.

The Times (London, England) (Sept 19, 2006): p78.

England raise the bar in defeat.

ENGLAND'S women may have finished runners-up to New Zealand in the World Cup final for the second time in succession, but yesterday's final in Edmonton is being hailed as the best ever game of women's rugby.

It was certainly the most physical and competitive match in the tournament's history and showcased a level of skill and athleticism not seen before in the women's game.

England, underdogs facing the defending champions, were always playing catch-up but had closed to within three points before New Zealand clinched a 25-17 victory with a late try through Amiria Marsh.

"We worked hard for 80 minutes and did everything we possibly could,'' England captain Jo Yapp said. "It was a tough game and you can't take anything away from the performance of the England girls.''

Despite dominating possession in the first half, England turned around 10-3 down after a try by Monalisa Codling and a conversion and penalty by Emma Jensen, Karen Andrew kicking a penalty for England.

England fell further behind when Stephanie Mortimer scored straight after the break. A penalty try and a touchdown by Helen Clayton closed the score to 20-17, but then Marsh eluded England's desperate cover defence to claim the crucial score.

After the match, centre Sue Day and back-row forwards Clayton and Georgia Stevens announced their retirement from international rugby.

Daily Telegraph (London, England) (Sept 19, 2006

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Day is central to England's final tilt: Wasps star has helped women to the brink, says Anna Kessel.

Anna Kessel

ENGLAND FACE New Zealand tonight in the Women's Rugby World Cup final in Canada, but with barely a squeak about it in the media you would be forgiven for knowing little about it. The vast majority of matches have been broadcast over the internet and Sky screened just one semi-final live from Edmonton.

New Zealand's Black Ferns are the overwhelming favourites to win a tournament that was officially sanctioned by the IRB only in 1998. They are the current holders, having beaten England in the final four years ago, and they have smashed their way through the opposition this time round, conceding 17 points and amassing 177 along the way.

England's own points tally looks impressive - scored 139, conceded just 30 - but their semi-final win over hosts Canada was uncertain right up to the final whistle and the winning margin was slim at 20-14. England are second favourites for the trophy, however, and have a number of experienced players - such as 32-year-old centre Sue Day - to draw on memories of past achievements and narrow misses.

They were champions in 1994, but otherwise England's women have been frustrated in recent years after defeat in two finals and finishing third in 1998. However, the triumph of this year's Six Nations victory will go some way to buoying the team.

Day is typical of the old guard generation of women rugby players who discovered the game late in life - at university - and this year looks as if it will be her last playing for England. But a younger generation with a different knowledge of rugby is emerging, players such as 19-year-old Michaela Staniford, already capped 16 times, who played rugby minis from the age of 12.

This generation are changing the game - by the time they reach their mid-twenties they will have amassed the same number of playing years as Day. The pace and skill of the women's game is on the up.

But the sport still suffers from an image problem. As recently as 2003, a Women's Sports Foundation report revealed that 17.2 per cent of those questioned didn't think that women should even be playing rugby (the same percentage as boxing). And with such poor coverage it is unlikely that many on the street could name the captain, Jo Yapp.

This World Cup has been ground-breaking in recruiting the highest number of female match officials (12) to oversee the games. In addition, the IRB announced that for the first time women's rugby will have a sevens tournament in 2009 running alongside the men's event.

But if England overcome the odds and beat New Zealand - and in addition recruit a decent-sized TV audience despite the midnight kick-off - will women's rugby be given the publicity it deserves? After the men's World Cup victory in 2003, a massive grassroots investment campaign was initiated to revitalise the sport. Between them, the RFU and the Government ploughed in pounds 28.5m to reverse the fall in playing numbers before 2003. Twelve months later, 33,000 new players were attracted to the game, with the biggest rise in numbers being the 7-11 age group, a 32 per cent increase.

There has been nothing like such attention to grassroots women's rugby. There are positives here and there but if the good-luck messages to the women's team from Andy Robinson and Rob Andrew on behalf of the RFU aspire to be taken seriously, much more needs to be done.

In an interview with Observer Sport before the World Cup, Staniford called for better interaction between the personnel of men's and women's rugby. 'Neil Back once came to talk to us, which had a huge impact,' she said, 'but there's still so much that the men's game can offer to us in terms of experience.'

Women's Rugby World Cup final

England v New Zealand, SS3 midnight

The Observer (London, England) (Sept 17, 2006): p19.

Sunday, 10 September 2006

Women progress

Nigel Botherway

England will play Canada, the hosts, in the semi-final of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Edmonton on Tuesday. The second favourites beat France 27-8 late on Friday night to top their pool. France face New Zealand, the defending champions, in the other semi-final.

Sunday Times (London, England) (Sept 10, 2006): p21.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

England women chase semi-final spo

Nigel Botherway

South Africa and France stand between England and a place in the semi-finals of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Edmonton, Canada. The Six Nations champions, who are ranked second behind holders New Zealand to lift the trophy, beat USA 18-0 on Thursday. The female Springboks are next up for England, tomorrow, followed by France on Friday. France beat Ireland 43-0 in their opening game, while Scotland beat Spain 24-0

Sunday Times (London, England) (Sept 3, 2006): p17