Alasdair Reid on Anny Freitas, the open-side flanker more than happy in her aggressive work
AS an exercise in preconception-demolition, the Women's Rugby World Cup, staged in Scotland a year ago, proved a class act. Raised from the rubble of a tournament originally scheduled to take place in Holland, the Scottish women's rugby union produced a competition that ran with gloriously improbable smoothness from start to finish. Their real feat, however, lay in showing a dubious Scottish public, once and for all, that the second sex could indeed play rugby.
And even if the standards of play sometimes fell short of what some coverage, strained to a patronising consistency through the clenched teeth of political correctness, tried to claim, the improvement through the tournament came in leaps and bounds. None more so than Scotland, who finished in fifth place after a rapturously-received victory over Canada in the final of the shield competition .
It was a memorable performance after some distinctly forgettable showings by their male counterparts in the Five Nations. Central to the success was the explosive play of the Scottish back row, with Anny Freitas, the 24-year-old Edinburgh Accies flanker, the undoubted star of their show.
Not content with one thistle on her jersey, Freitas shaved another on the back of her head. A year on, her current trichological adventure is a sort of Mohican minimalism ``just a head shave with a bit of a fringe'' but when she wins her 10th cap against Italy at Meggetland this afternoon her ability to concentrate the minds of opponents with her forceful, driving play will be undiminished.
Scotland have not been beaten since the World Cup. They have, however, chosen their opponents carefully and Freitas admits that England, the ultimate winners last April, are still a class apart. She believes, though, that the standards of the two countries have moved closer together.
``I think the gap is definitely getting narrower. England are still a very formidable force and still the team to beat, but we're getting stronger with every game. I can see in the near future there could be a real contest.''
Yet even after the success of last year's tournament, Freitas still senses a need to stress the fact that female aggression is no different from the male version, a function of individual character rather than gender and perfectly acceptable so long as it is positive and controlled. The notion that women can play that way may be uncomfortable to some, but the suggestion that women's rugby can somehow develop as a gentler, nicer, version is a complete non-starter to her.
``In a contact sport, if you're not aggressive you'll get hurt. There is this thing that society doesn't expect women to be aggressive and I think there is a strong, positive connection between being aggressive and being assertive. Everyone has the potential to be aggressive and it's only negative when it is associated with violence.''
It would be wrong to see Freitas, a student of community education, as a strident pioneer, obsessed with the issue of women's rugby rather than the playing of it. She was introduced to the game four years ago and almost surprised herself by finding enjoyment in something she had previously despised.
``I just went along with a couple of mates and that was it. I actually hated rugby before I started playing, basically because I didn't understand it. I used to watch it and it just seemed so static, there was no dynamic. There was also the fact that it had the stereotype of being the middle class game and being completely male dominated. I suppose I discovered rugby by playing rugby.''
Her discovery was Scotland's gain, too. Her importance to the side can be measured by the fact that, having decided to give international rugby a miss for a while as she concentrated on her final year studies, she was persuaded back into the fold by the Scottish team management earlier this year. This afternoon, against a confident side that has already inflicted a heavy defeat on Scotland's A team, Freitas will be trying to demolish a few Italian preconceptions as well.
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1995
"Demolishing the preconceptions; Anny Freitas." Sunday Times [London, England] 30 Apr. 1995