Friday, 15 April 1994

World cup: England v Russia

Clement Freud

Let me begin by apologising for the failings in this article. I went to the rugby international between England and Russia sponsored by Alna Ltd, creative colour printers of East Lothian which England won 66-0 with a stunning display of fast, open football, and I took the most careful notes of who did what; also when.

My notebook makes mention of the sureness of touch of the scrum half; the intelligent reading of the game by our full back; the electric speed of both wingers, of whom the one on the right was powerful, the one on the left nimble and cunning.

I wrote a paragraph praising the valour and mobility of the English No5 in the lineouts, another concerning the strength and discipline of the scrum in which England got lower and pushed harder than their opponents. Our No8, I noted, would be voted ``most valuable player'' were such an award part of the British game.

There was no available match-card or team-sheet, but the press officer kindly gave me a glossy world championship official souvenir brochure containing complete details of every player representing 11 of the competing nations; I accepted this gratefully to use for the translation of numbers into names.

Alas, also alack: the numbers on the brochure bore no relationship to those on the backs of the players' shirts though the positions are chronicled.

As a consequence, I know not whether our efficient scrum half was Emma Mitchell 5ft 3in, 11 stone, 27-year-old sales manager who has 23 international caps or Helen Harding 5ft 5in, 9st 10lb, 22, service adviser with one representative appearance to date. The one I admired looked 5ft 4 in.

The brochure lists only one No8 and a single stand-off: all praise, then, to Gill Burns 5ft 11in, 131/2st, 29 and Deirdre Mills 5ft 4in, 9st 12lb who also kicked penalties and converted tries with rare panache and comprehensive understanding of the effect of the wind.

Paula George fits the statistics of the full back on view (Jane Mitchell, also shown to play in this position, is 5ft 4in and the one I saw was taller).

But there are four listed wingers: which ever of Jayne Molyneaux, Cheryl Stennett, Val Blackett or Annie Cole wore the numbers 11 and 14 shirts deserve the highest praise. They played great rugby. I particularly appreciated the pass from the right winger to the left one ten yards from the Russian line when both were well clear of the opposition.

All this happened at the sloping Boroughmuir Rugby Football Club ground in the south-west of Edinburgh in front of a crowd of 83, a number that includes managers of the teams, their trainers and the substitutes.

Our women wore the white strip of Carling's team; the Russians had white shorts over black knee-length cycling trousers and red shirts, though what they gained in sartorial elegance they lost on the field of play.

Their passing was flawed, they kicked when they should have run, their attempted Gari Ovans went upski without having anyone beneath to gather the ball.

Sadly, Russia is the one team not listed in the brochure, but some of them were called Olga, Natalya, Elena and Svetlana; I heard the coach call out their names.

As the Soviet Union, they played in the first World Cup, held in Cardiff three years ago. The editor of the official souvenir laments: ``Since that time, little has been heard or seen of them and unfortunately player profiles have not materialised.''

What is fascinating about women's rugby it is uplifting that nobody calls it ladies' rugby is the openness of the game. About 50 per cent of set-pieces result in the ball being passed along the threequarter line; the tackling is precise; the rucking hard, but sufficiently benign to enable defending players to fall on the ball without grievous consequence.

We needed a bigger crowd.

A second-year politics student from Strathclyde University shouted: ``Come on Russia'' three or four times.

When our No4 dived across the line to bring the score to 51-0 and Mills missed the conversion, one of the coaches called, ``Concentrate England''.

I also liked ``All the way next time, Emma'', a cry that I have often heard at Twickenham in the bar, after the match.

At 6.30 this evening, Scotland play England at Boroughmuir. If you live somewhere north of Watling Street and love rugby, you would be very foolish to go anywhere else.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Well played, whoever you were; Freud on Friday." Times [London, England] 15 Apr. 1994

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