Patricia Davies spends an afternoon at the mangle as the women rugby players of Wales are taken to the cleaners
We all have days like this: starting off full of hope and ending up mangled. At Welford Road, the home of Leicester, yesterday, Wales's women rugby players continued their losing streak against England; steamrollered into the mud, 56-3.
Wales were plucky. Near the end of the match, someone called for them to ``buck up'', a quaintly old-fashioned request, one you suspected the visitors' combative No7 would not have appreciated. She was spoken to by the referee after a swipe at an opponent early on there had been an elegant bit of lifting by England in the lineout, mind and late on she had been given a severe talking-to after some shenanigans in one of those forward melees civilians like me will never understand.
In any case, by then my attention had started to wander, my feet and hands were icing up and the match was too one-sided to be enjoyable as a contest. Not that England or their supporters minded the strains of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot were heard before the game even started and 1,205 hardy souls took a spirited interest in the proceedings. There were plenty of stewards on duty, looking rather under-employed because there was plenty of room for everybody and nobody felt inclined to streak on such a chilly afternoon.
This being a proper international, the teams lined up for the two anthems and sang as lustily as they were to play on a pitch one of the photographers described as being ``like glue''. Since he and his colleagues had to trawl up and down the touchline in it, he was not a neutral observer. The Wales players did not seem to run out of puff, however, even though it was 41-0 before they scored their only points a dropped goal from Amanda Bennett, their chunky stand-off half from Saracens.
Just before that England had elected to kick a penalty, which I found a trifle baffling since they were 38-0 up and in no danger of losing their 100 per cent record against Wales, extending now to 11 internationals. Then I realised why it was to allow Gill Burns, of Waterloo, the captain and No8, to show off her kicking technique from wide out on the right. She converted and the desultory chant of ``Boring, boring rubbish'' was replaced by appreciative cheers.
Burns, 31, is a school teacher, measuring 5ft 11in, weighing 12st 7lb (there is no modesty in a rugby programme) and Wales, whose No8 was 5ft 4in, could not hold her. She scored the first of her team's eight tries, rolling out of a tackle and then powering over the line in jubilation.
``Just like Deano,'' said a Leicester man used to the exploits of Dean Richards. Well, maybe a little faster.
Just before the try, there had been a lineout and I am sure the codeword was ``elephant''. Then, there had been a mix-up between the Wales full back and right wing, who went for the same high ball. The full back was furious. ``I called,'' she spat. Well, I did not hear her either. I have to confess I had called her a ``twit'' for not calling. Shows how wrong you can be from the sidelines.
There was plenty of that esoteric rummaging about and crunching tackles that made me realise I was too old and too timid to take up the game but there was lots of handling, too, some of it decidedly slick. However Wales, whose coach, Paul Ringer, looked on philosphically, tended to drop the ball at crucial moments and England would pick it up and charge off to notch up yet another try. There was nearly a charge-down reminiscent of the one at Twickenham the previous day and England made several interceptions; if my fingers had not seized up I might have made a legible note of how many had led to tries.
I have seen many men's club matches a lot less skilful and the spectators, a mix of young and old, male and female, were quick to applaud the passing moves the men's teams are often afraid to try in these win-at-all-costs days. ``I like their shirts better than the men's as well,'' commented one England supporter, obviously of the old, unadorned school.
It was well worth the detour even the beefburger, bought out of duty, was excellent, though the hot toddies had to wait until after the drive home.
Copyright (C) The Times, 1996
"Women happy to abandon the gentle touch; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 5 Feb. 1996