Saturday, 26 December 2009

England's new golden girl is on a mission Scarratt keen to change image of women's rugby

THE answer to Martin Johnson's creative void is

19 years old, stands a fraction under six feet and rips across the gain line with grace and beauty not seen since Jeremy Guscott lit up winter afternoons. The hair might be a little on the long side for Johnno, and changing-room arrangements could present a problem, but in all other respects Emily Scarratt is your girl.

Ms Scarratt, the youngest member of the England women's squad, touches down at an average of a try per match and can play across the back line. In England's subordination of New Zealand at Twickenham on the same bleak November afternoon that the men lost to the All Blacks, Scarratt was poster girl under the high ball at full-back. More than 12,000 stayed behind in filthy weather to watch our women beat down the world champions.

This was not rugby lite. Had the Rugby Football Union the foresight to keep four sides of Twickenham open instead of one, the place would have been packed out. Men young and old were left peering one-eyed through gaps in security fences, risking the amber nectar, to watch England win a game of rugby against southern hemisphere opposition. Next time it might be an idea to put the women on first.

Stereotypes were trampled into the mud, which is high on the agenda at the RFU. Watching women taking lumps out of each other in gum shields requires an adjustment. Immersion therapy works best. Eighty minutes glued to the bump and grind at Twickenham cured me.

"It has taken people a while to get their heads around the idea of women playing rugby. There is a big physicality about the game. But it is important that women are taking part in sports like this,'' said Scarratt. "I have had it before when I tell people what sport I play. They say, 'oh you don't look like a rugby player'. We are trying to make the game more appealing and increase participation. Personally what people think doesn't bother me. I just love to play.''

Scarratt is wandering through the sports emporium at Leeds Metropolitan University with a rugby ball under her arm. I was grateful for the prompt since the amazon filling the space was a makeover or two removed from the mug shot in the England media guide.

One day, perhaps, women's rugby might gain the platform that her level of commitment, heart, skill and nerve merits. Were Scarratt a man the cameras would not give her a minute's peace. Here's an idea: why not invite her on to Sky's panel of gnarled ex-pros? Michael Lynagh would be delighted to exchange passes with her.

The boys would be chuffed to find a woman fluent in the game and happy to tackle the tricky subjects, like reconciling the big hit with traditional ideas of femininity. Here is how she does it.

"It is about being comfortable with yourself and your choices. On the pitch, in training, in the gym, we are just rugby players. How people present themselves in their private life is completely different and nobody's business. Some people have issues with that, but the girls are all happy with themselves. There are no issues at all for us.

"When it comes to talking about me and rugby, I prefer to be known for the 12 tries that I scored in 12 games, rather than the way I look. The 12 tries is the important stat. Everything else comes afterwards. I'm a rugby player first. Rugby is what I'm about.''

Scarratt is a second-year sports science undergraduate. It had to be sport. Throw her a ball, any ball and she will hit it, catch it, kick it or slam-dunk it. She played international rounders for England Under-18s and county basketball. Nothing quite gives her the fix she needs like rugby, a game she has played since she was five years-old, tagging along with her dad and older brother.

She brings to it the old enthusiasms of the amateur ethos. Unlike Johnson's over-trained, over-indulged underperformers, the women have not lost the sense of wonder and joy associated with participation. It is fundamentally fun for them, not work. With each defeat Johnson retreats further into his coaching coalition. He should be looking outwards, not in, and could do worse than hang out with our women ahead of the Six Nations.

Scarratt made her debut against the United States in August last year, and scored. "We had a midfield move, I got the ball and hit a line, I didn't remember much until I was over the try line. I just ran as if it were a life or death situation. America were a big, physical side, quite happy to smash you into the middle of next week. It's part of the game. I've grown up with it. Just as you have to pass the ball you have to make a tackle and take a tackle in rugby. I enjoy it in an odd kind of way.''

Time up. She had to go. Another tackle to make. Never mind, the conversation is ongoing. The sisters are on their way: 2010 is World Cup year, a chance to show the world England really does know how to play the game.

Daily Telegraph (London, England) (Dec 26, 2009): p021.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Scotland have been drawn in

Scotland have been drawn in pool C with France, Canada and Sweden for the sixth women's rugby union World Cup in London next year. Surrey Sports Park will host the 12 teams competing in the tournament that will run from August 20 to September 5.

The third-place match, semi-finals and the final will be played at the Twickenham Stoop, the home ground of Harlequins. England and Ireland have been drawn in pool B with the United States and Kazakhstan and Wales are in pool A with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The Times (London, England) (Nov 24, 2009): p75

Saturday, 21 November 2009

England v New Zealand: Women's double deal

Robert Kitson

At least one England captain thinks New Zealand are beatable this afternoon. Catherine Spencer is also confident the second half of today's Twickenham double-header will raise the profile of women's rugby and provide more value for money than fans have received lately. Anyone seeking the West Stand experience without the hefty price tag should make the most of free admission from 4.15pm. England are determined to atone for last week's 16-3 defeat in their first meeting with the Black Ferns since the 2006 World Cup final.

The Guardian (London, England) (Nov 21, 2009): p10.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


Adam Redmond

WHILE this column would like to acknowledge the continued improvements to a handful of club websites, the less cared-for sites are about to get a fright when they cast their eyes upon The website, which is dedicated to women's rugby, is the brainchild of former Irish women's PRO Alison Donnelly. With a busy year ahead, including a decision on Sevens in the Olympics, the Women's Rugby World Cup, Six Nations and Nations Cup, the site promises to deliver real-time results and coverage.

Added to the range of features, blogs and fixture information available, there are diaries from Irish international Fiona Coughlan and Canada's Meghan Mutrie, who details her remarkable recovery after suffering a debilitating head injury.

The Daily Mail (London, England) (Oct 1, 2009): p61.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Battle of the sexes: Inequality in sport: Plenty of success, but few rewards.

This year, the England women's team won the Six Nations for the fourth consecutive time; the men's team haven't won it since 2003. "Women's rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports and the England team is doing amazingly well at the moment," says Julia Hutton, the team's spokeswoman. "Wales are improving and Scotland are getting better as well, so we have strong home nations sides. Next year will be really important because we're hosting the World Cup." Unlike the men who earn about pounds 200,000 a year in club salaries, up to pounds 12,000 for winning an international game and millions from endorsements, none of the female international players is paid to play.


Last month, the Football Association awarded central contracts to 17 members of the England women's football team so they can concentrate on full-time training. "This is brilliant for me," said the midfielder Rachel Williams, who had worked as a plasterer. It is an important step, but it's too early to get excited - the salaries are pounds 16,000, nothing compared with the millions earned by male players. The women's Premier League has lost some of its best players, such as Kelly Smith, to the US, where women's soccer is taken much more seriously. The Welsh and Scottish women's teams have never qualified for a World Cup, but England reached the quarter final in 2007.


Eight players from the England women's team have been given contracts as ambassadors for the Chance to shine programme, encouraging young cricketers. But these contracts only pay the women to coach in schools - not to play cricket. "It has made a massive impact on the game, it has given them the security of a job," says Clare Connor from the ECB. The top 20 women's players also get grants of between pounds 300 and pounds 800 a month, but these amounts are only a fraction of the pounds 250,000 playing fees international male cricketers earn.


Tennis is one sport where women are on a more equal footing, yet it has only been two years since the All England Club announced that women would receive the same amount in prize money at Wimbledon as male competitors. According to Forbes magazine, Roger Federer earned $35m (pounds 21m) from sponsorship deals in 2008; the second highest was Maria Sharapova (pictured) who earned $26m.

The Guardian (London, England) (June 27, 2009): p29.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Trying success; Letters to the Editor

Sir, While not wishing to detract from the success of the England women's cricket team (report, April 3), and Claire Taylor in particular, it is a pity that the same coverage is not given to the England women's rugby union team. Since appearing in the last World Cup final, only one match has been lost. That merits more attention.

ros rowley Worthing, W Sussex
The Times (London, England) (April 7, 2009): p25.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Unpopular England make no friends in Dublin; There was fear and loathing on the pitch at the women's Six Nations tournament

Peter O'Reilly

WHAT was all that about the bonhomie of Six Nations weekends? There wasn't much of it at Templeville Road on Friday evening when the Ireland and England women's rugby teams got well and truly stuck into each other for 80 minutes and then studiously avoided each other afterwards.

There were tears on one side and smiles on the other - but no hugs or handshakes with the oppo. These girls really don't like each other.

England are generally unpopular, I was told. This probably has something to do with the fact that they came into this year's Six Nations looking for their fourth consecutive grand slam, and definitely has something to do with their cold professionalism. That's real professionalism, by the way - their coach, Gary Street, is full-time, and several of his players are semi-pro, thanks to the RFU ploughing [pounds sterling]2 million of national lottery funds into the women's game each year.

So when 'cocky' England were narrowly beaten 16-15 by Wales two weekends ago, there was general rejoicing amongst the other countries. Ireland sensed an opportunity too. Having won their first two games, against France and Italy, they now had home advantage against a team they had pushed close in a pre-Christmas friendly, also in Dublin.

The English girls looked like they meant business on Friday, though.

Their pre-match defence drills were frightening to behold. "Hit me Amy! Hit me Amy!" screeched one tackle-bag holder. And hit her Amy did. Hard. A whole lot of hitting and screeching going on, so there was.

The national anthems sounded more angelic, though you could see the visitors' patience beginning to wane as they stood through not one Irish anthem but two. This was the 12-inch extended version of Ireland's Call too, including the verse they leave out at the men's games. The Irish coach, Steve Hennessy, was really belting it out, standing shoulder to shoulder with his management staff.

Are a couple of the Irish girls wearing fake tan? England are more physically imposing, however, massive. They start impressively into the wind, off-loading expertly.

Their problem is every time they kick the ball, they kick it to Niamh Briggs, the Irish full-back, who has a beast of a right boot and a small, personal fan club in the crowd of around 500. "Well done, Briggsy," they roar every time she roots the ball 70 metres downfield.

Soon she kicks Ireland into a 3-0 lead and then converts a try by winger Amy Davis. There is bad language in the English huddle.

"We can't let the f***ing intensity drop," someone urges. They don't let it drop, either. Soon Emily Scarratt, their runaway horse of an outside centre, is scoring in the left corner and England are on the scoreboard.

But they are rattled by Ireland's ferocious defence and clever use of the wind. Francesca Matthews, England's blonde right winger, keeps dropping the ball and looks like she's rightly browned off with herself. "You can't just give in!" exhorts fly-half Katy McLean, from the Darlington Mowden Park Sharks. "Come on, Francesca!" Then number eight and captain Catherine Spencer is sin-binned just before the break and Briggsy knocks over the penalty. Ireland are leading 13-5 and looking good.

You can sense England going up a gear after the break, however.

Amy Turner comes on at scrum-half and makes a difference. They put more width on the ball and six minutes into the half, Matthews puts the finishing touches on an exquisite backline move. She is mobbed by her team-mates.

A dirge-like 'Fields of Athenry' breaks out on the terrace, as if Ireland's supporters know trouble is brewing. Midway through the half, Matthews scores again and England take the lead for the first time.

Ireland are game but there is only one possible result. By the end, they do well to hold England to a 29-13 victory, for points difference may play a part in this championship.

While the Irish players went to applaud their supporters, skipper Joy Neville had media interviews to attend to. "We played a wicked first half but we need to work on our defence," she said. "I don't know if we over-committed to the rucks but they kept catching us out wide..

They adapted their game-plan at the break and we didn't react. But we've learnt from that." Meanwhile, England were doing their post-match stretching routine in the middle of the pitch and sipping recovery drinks. Somehow you couldn't see the two sets of girls mingling for a sing-song and a pint later that evening.

Sunday Times (London, England) (March 1, 2009): p4