Sunday, 27 August 2006

THE GIRL'S A BIT SPECIAL: Michaela Staniford Rugby Union Age 19, England outside-centre, 13 caps.

Aren't you a bit young for women's rugby?

No, it's changing and a lot of younger girls are coming through now. Years ago women only started playing at university but now girls have the chance to learn rugby 'minis' at school. I also benefited from fast tracking - I played one season at under 19s and then went straight through to the Six Nations aged 18. I was the youngest ever female player to be capped.

Are people surprised when you tell them you play rugby?

Yes, always. I don't look like what you'd call a typical rugby player, but then that's stereotypes for you. Our squad's made up of all shapes and sizes. Contrary to popular belief there really is no type.


Mic. Or whatever comes out when they're shouting at me on the pitch. . .

Rugby idol?

I always loved watching Will Greenwood, as much for his attitude as his playing ability. He played his hardest but he'd always smile if he made a mistake.

What kind of character are you?

I get told I'm an old head on young shoulders - I enjoy being around the older ladies. I don't want to mess about because I've been fast tracked so I've got to prove myself.

I appreciate professionalism.

How are the team preparing for the World Cup?

We've been endurance training at a marine commando base on Exmoor. It's been awesome. We've been over assault courses, pushing Land Rovers up hills, going through underwater tunnels, abseiling and all sorts.

How many times did they scream 'drop down and gimme 10?'

They didn't. But they kept trying to wind us up about safety harnesses breaking and all that. They had to tone it down for us because we've got a World Cup to go to.

How does the quality of the women's game compare to the men's?

It's difficult because no matter how hard we train they're always going to be stronger and faster, but on skill I know we can match them, for sure.

What has been done to raise the profile of women's rugby ?

We needed a better standard of competitive rugby so last year the Super League was introduced. Whereas previously you'd get one club whitewashing another, Super League takes the top 88 players in the country, splits them into four teams and it makes for a much better quality game. It'd be nice to get more media acknowledgement of our achievements though.

Your aim for the World Cup?

To win it of course, and I really believe we can. And to show people that we can play some very, very good rugby.

The kids from fame: Women's Rugby World Cup, Edmonton.

Why should we care?

The face of women's rugby is changing: there's better coaching, better quality play and a younger generation of players coming through. With many of the women's matches now being staged just before the men's, it's a sport you'll be seeing much more of in the future.

When's it taking place?

31 August to 17 September in Edmonton.

Is it on TV?

Sky will be screening both semi-finals and the final live, and you can watch all the games live on the official IRB website,

Who are the tournament favourites?

New Zealand's Black Ferns are tipped to win their third consecutive title.

And England?

Second favourites from a pool of 12 teams.

And the best of England's kids are?

Kim Oliver Centre, age 22, Clifton RFC. Began her sporting career in judo.

Danielle Waterman Scrum-half, age 21, Henley RFC. Student at University of Wales.

Rachel Burford Centre, age 20, Henley RFC.

Amy Turner Scrum-half, age 22, Wasps. First picked up rugby ball aged 6.

Maggie Alphonsi Flanker, age 22, Saracens. An ex-discus thrower.

The Observer (London, England) (August 27, 2006): p23

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Why more coverage of your sport would suit you, madam: Felled by flawed attitude

Sue Day

As the vice-captain of the England women's rugby team, the reigning Six Nations champions, I read 'A Man's World' with interest and agreed with a lot of the sentiments. Undoubtedly the women's sporting world needs to do more to sell itself, raise its profile and to demonstrate to the kids out there that it is a fulfilling and inspirational place to be.

I would take issue with certain suggestions made, however, not least from your own sports editor, Brian Oliver, who said: 'It's too simplistic to blame the media, who do not coach, develop and fund champions.' I agree that it is too simplistic - there are many other factors, including funding, opportunity, perception and quality of coaching. But if the system in place to bring through the female stars of the future is flawed, then the media's attitude to it is equally so.

The women's sports that get the most coverage seem to be those inextricably linked to the men's events - tennis, athletics, horse racing. Look at the coverage of my own sport. The England women's team fly out to the World Cup at the end of the month as second favourites. Each individual in the squad trains as a 'professional'. We have skill, determination and entertainment value to rival the men, and if you are reporting sport simply on its merits, then surely we would have seen news of our achievements.

I am realistic enough to understand that it will probably take decades (at least) to begin to compete with the history that goes with hundreds of years of male-dominated sport. However, it would be nice to see the British media do their bit towards ensuring that women's sport actually is reported on its merits.

Sue Day, England rugby player

The Observer (London, England) (August 6, 2006): p18.