England Women race to 200 points!

The England Women's Team have made a thrilling start to their Six Nations Tournament Chris Diver, England's fullbackscoring 126 points to 7 against in their first two games, including a 67 to 0 demolition of France in the first international that the team has played at Twickenham. However, just like Clive Woodward's squad, the women respect their opponents and habitually take each game as it comes. In the case of Spain, their opponents at the Stoop on Sunday, there would be good reasons for doing so as at the last encounter between these two sides in the quarter finals of the Barcelona Women's World Cup, Spain 5 - 0 up at half time were poised to create an upset and deny England a place in the semi-finals.
Then the wake up call from Head Coach Geoff Richards came at half time and immediately after England scored two tries in quick succession (by Nicki Jupp and Nicola Crawford) making the score, Spain 5 England 10. A successful penalty by Shelley Rae followed and England advanced to the semi-finals winners by 13 points to 5.

Since that time, both teams have suffered radical changes: The Spanish team have lost a number of key experienced players through retirement, their replacements being young and inexperienced players. Only three players in the Spanish side have won more than twenty caps. England have lost four stalwarts also: Gill Burns, Emma Mitchell, Karen Henderson and Theresa O' Reilly. It is hoped that, Teresa Andrews, taking a year out at the moment, will return to international duty in due course. Geoff Richards says of Andrews that, "she is a fantastic athlete and quite a presence for England"

With Head Coach Geoff Richards making two changes to the bench from the Wales game in Helen Flippance and Amy Garnett, the questions were, although England have never lost to Spain, would England bury the ghosts of Barcelona at the Stoop? And, how would the loss of so many key players and the introduction of so many new faces affect the ability of the Spanish side to compete away from home?

Such doubts and the answers to both questions became clear within the first fifteen minutes of the game with the two try scorers in Barcelona ( Nicki Jupp and Nicola Crawford) as well as Sue Day, running in tries. Shelley Rae was successful with the conversions and the England Team was 21 points up. The result was thereafter never in doubt.

At the end of the match, Nicola Crawford, Sue Day and Nicki Jupp had scored two tries each. As did Chris Diver, taking her personal tally to eight tries in the Six Nations tournament so far. Unlike the Men's team at Twickenham later that afternoon, the Women were never likely to take their foot off the pedal and dominating the Spanish girls, ran out winners by 74 points to 0.

Following the game Geoff Richards made clear that his instructions to the team at the break had been to guard against any lack of concentration and to maintain form and pressure. "It is all too easy to run up a big score early on and then lose focus." While, according to England's Nicky Jupp, "the team played much better in the second half than they did in the first."

After the first three Six Nations games the English Women have amassed a total of exactly 200 points and if they maintain such rare form, records beckon.

On the day, Claire Frost replaced Maxine Edwards as Captain, Edwards being unable to play owing to a knee injury sustained during training on Tuesday. Edwards commented after the game, "I was disappointed to be unable to play in today's game, but it was another fantastic win for the team." " I'm looking forward to being back to full fitness for the game against Scotland, where a win will cement our position at the top of the table.

Nicki Jupp, one of England's stars was satisfied with her game overall, but like all of the England players never stops looking for the perfect performance. Nicki has for the last six months been able to combine the position of Media guru at the RFU with the demanding business of being a dedicated athlete and rugby player - a rare combination of social and physical skills.

Geoff Richards commented that, the loss of Maxine Edwards meant that Nicola Ponsford returned, which allowed her to gain her fiftieth cap" "It was a great achievement for her." The last time Ponsford had been up for her fiftieth cap she had spent the whole time on the bench, so it must have been especially welcome to her.

Richards commented: "It would be difficult to pick out any particular player, it was another terrific win for England today with the whole team playing their part in the victory but full credit must go to the Spanish Team for their performance with a very new and inexperienced team." "Both myself and the whole team are very much looking forward to the next home game against Scotland on the 22nd of March, once again at the Stoop with the return from injury of captain, Maxine Edwards."

A postscript to the Women's International was later provided by the Welsh coach of my local English team who, calling at the Stoop before the main event at Twickenham, enthused to me: "The England Women's Team play the game the way it should be played. As a spectacle it was much better than the Men's game that followed."

Steve Mitchell

This artcicle appeared in the March 13th edition of RUGBY TIMES