David Hands says the women's rugby World Cup illustrated a gulf in standards.
NEW Zealand, just as they have done in the men's game, set a new target of excellence when they carried off the women's World Cup in Amsterdam. In beating the United States 44-12, they set a standard to which others will aspire between now and the fourth tournament, in 2002.
During that time, the sport's administrators will be concerned to put in place a framework of matches that permits regular development in countries where the women's representative game is piecemeal. Too few of the countries competing in Holland have had that exposure, and it is likely that funds will be put aside for the staging of international tournaments as opposed to tours by those countries that can afford it. The International Rugby Board (IRB) gave Pounds 500,000 from Rugby World Cup for the organisation in Holland.
There will be concern, for example, that France appear to have gone backwards since the 1994 World Cup in Edinburgh; at the same time there will be pleasure at the advance of Canada and Kazakhstan - where fewer than 134 women play - and the ambition of Spain, the most popular team in the tournament. Yet if Canada, ranked fourth, could be beaten 81-15 by England in the third-place play-off, it indicates a gulf between the top three countries and the rest.
"We looked at where we were four years ago and there has been a 100 per cent improvement," Jill Zonneveld, the Canadian representative on the women's advisory committee to the IRB, said of the tournament as a whole.
"The levels of play have started to move up and the Dutch made this a highly-organised affair. Tenders for 2002 will go out in the next few weeks and we hope to know by January where it will be played. We have to consider development, impact and money." For those reasons, the venue is likely to be in Europe or North America, where access to sponsorship and television is greater.
Some 2,500 watched Vanessa Cootes score five of New Zealand's eight tries against the Americans on Sunday and confirm a technical expertise well in advance of any rival. The "Gal Blacks" had received coaching from John Hart and several members of his New Zealand men's squad and neither England in the semi-finals nor the Americans in the final could live with them.
It remains to be seen whether longstanding members of the England squad, which began with such high hopes of a successful defence of their 1994 title, will continue. An excellent spirit has been bred over the past three weeks and players such as Sue Day - switched to full back - and Jo Yapp, the 18-year-old scrum half, have received invaluable exposure.
FINAL RANKING (seeding in brackets): 1, New Zealand (4); 2, United States (2); 3, England (1); 4, Canada (8); 5, Australia (6); 6, Scotland (5); 7, Spain (7); 8, France (3); 9, Kazakhstan (14); 10, Ireland (11); 11, Wales (10); 12, Italy (12); 13, Holland (9); 14, Germany (13); 15, Sweden (16); 16, Russia (15).
Copyright (C) The Times, 1998
Hands, David. "New Zealand expose limitations; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 19 May 1998