By Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
Former England legend Gill Burns (many of the the players are there now because of people like Burnsie) put it so well in her role as pitchside commentator when she said the women’s game was the better one of the England v New Zealand clashes at Twickenham today…and everyone in the 12.500 who stayed on to watch a cracking game must agree.
For the good of the women’s game England emerged victorious, which ensures that next year’s Women’s World Cup (which will be held in England) will not be the usual procession of New Zealand winning it. They clearly have a fight on their hands.
Coach Gary Street and his assistant Graham Smith pulled off a masterstroke in victory. England lost 16-3 to the same New Zealand team last Saturday and the coaches gambled on a no-holds barred contact session on Wednesday to put some devil into their team. The coaches would have their fingers crossed as the tackles when in, but despite some blood and a few scratches emerged unscathed.
And it looked like England were still in that contact session when the game started as they got out of the blocks hitting rucks and getting stuck into the tackles as if their lives depended on it. The New Zealand haka – which is very different from the men’s – has the unfortunate finish of the Kiwis marching 10 or 20 feet towards their opponents. England refused to budged and ended nose to nose with their opponents. That confrontation set the tone.
The first victory for England over New Zealand in eight years was secured by a try from Catherine Spencer and the boot of Katie McLean. That boot didn’t just kick a drop goal and conversion as McLean’s kicking game was a key reason why England won. The Black Ferns simply couldn’t match it and in worsening conditions couldn’t get close enough in the final minutes to think about closing the gap.
But the real heroes for me were props Claire Purdy and Sophie Hemming. When the going got tough, these two got going! Most coaches will say you can’t win a game without a great tighthead and Hemming fitted the bill against New Zealand. putting their side on the front foot. And coach Street has the luxury of knowing he will have props Katie Storie and Rocky Clark back for next year’s World Cup. That is going to be some selection headache!
Everyone who watches women’s rugby has known for some time what a talent Maggie Alphonsi is. But the Saracens openside really came of age in this game, fulfilling the potential she has shown, on the biggest stage. She is set to not only be one of the stars of the 2010 World Cup, but is already setting new world-class standards for women’s rugby. The breakdown has never been more important than it is today and Alphonsi is the team’s hunter, the women’s equivalent of Richie McCaw.
What difference will this make to next year’s World Cup!
England’s message next week will be this victory has achieved nothing. These women’s career will be defined by the World Cup next August. Also they know New Zealand will come back 10 points better. England’s challenge is also to be ten points better.
But crucially this win will give them belief. It is all very saying you believe you can beat a team, but England do believe it now and when their backs are against the wall in next year’s World Cup they will have this match to use as inspiration.
Off the pitch well done to Sky for televising the match. BBC never did! And well done for putting Gill Burns on the pitchside and Susie Appleby in the studio for the game. Let’s hope these two are there again for the World Cup and the commentators also have a woman, like Appleby, alongside them to give expert comment during the games.
England Head Coach Gary Street said: “It’s brilliant to win here at Twickenham in front of our biggest ever crowd. Hopefully we have showed the people watching here today and watching on sky what a fantastic sport this is, and how skilful the women’s game is at this level too.
“We won this game because of our physicality, our defence was tremendous and we really believed in ourselves. Catherine Spencer today put on one of the great Twickenham performances. To come out and play as well as she did being captain and earning her 50th cap is amazing. She is a tremendous athlete and brilliant leader of this team.
“From here now the important thing is that we keep moving forward and improving. We know that winning the world cup is not a pipe dream anymore, we can do it and that is our goal for the next nine months.”
15 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), 14 Katherine Merchant (Worcester), 13 Claire Allan (Richmond), 12 Rachael Burford (Richmond), 11 Charlotte Barras (Saracens), 10 Katy Mclean (VC) (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), 9 Amy Turner (Richmond), 1 Claire Purdy (Wasps), 2 Amy Garnett (Saracens), 3 Sophie Hemming (Bristol), 4 Rebecca Essex (Richmond), 5 Joanna McGilchrist (Wasps),
6 Heather Fisher (Worcester), 7 Margaret Alphonsi (Saracens), 8 Catherine Spencer (C) (Bristol). Replacements: 16 Sam Reeve (Worcester), 17 Rosemarie Crowley (Lichfield), 18 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), 19 Jane Leonard (Team Northumbria / Army), 20 Georgina Rozario (Bristol),
21 Alice Richardson (Richmond), 22 Fiona Pocock (Richmond)
Drop goal: McLean
Substitutions: Richardson for Burford, Taylor for Essex (HT), Pocock for Barras (53), Crowley for Purdy (61), Leonard for Fisher (65), Reeve for Garnett (67), Rozario for Turner (74).
New Zealand Team
15 Kelly Brazier (Otago)
14 Victoria Grant (Auckland), 13 Huriana Manuel (Auckland), 12 Amiria Rule (Canterbury) VC, 11 Carla Hohepa (Otago), 10 Rebecca Mahony (Wellington), 9 Emma Jensen (Auckland), 1 Ruth McKay (Manawatu), 2 Fiao’o Faamausili (Auckland), 3 Stephanie TeOhaere-Fox (Canterbury), 4 Vita Robinson (Auckland), 5 Victoria Heighway (C) (Auckland), 6 Casey Robertson (Canterbury), 7 Justine Lavea (Auckland), 8 Linda Itunu (Auckland). Replacements: 16 Claire Rowat (Wellington), 17 Kimberly Smith (Canterbury), 18 Beth Mallard (Otago),
19 Olivia Coady (Canterbury), 20 Kendra Cocksedge (Canterbury), 21 Renee Wickcliffe (Auckland), 22 Anika Tiplady (Canterbury)
Drop Goal: Mahoney