England's Women Triumph in Six Nations!
Would Thomond Park, graveyard of Gloucester's Heineken Cup ambitions, have the same intimidating atmosphere for the England Women where they would come up against Ireland's Women? And would the Irish girls recover their self-belief, having lost away to Wales, in time to contest the match with a rampant England who had scored 231 points so far in the Six Nations Championship?
Speaking to Rugby Times after the Scotland game, England's Captain, Maxine Edwards anticipating a tough match said that England were unsure how Ireland would play as the teams hadn't met recently. It was no surprise then that, for the first fifteen minutes of this floodlit international Ireland were a match for England. There must be a hotline between Celtic coaches when it comes to playing the Ould Enemy, as their aggression in defence frustrated the England backs into making uncharacteristic handling errors, as had the Scottish Women in their game against England. Then, after Six Nation's top try scorer, Chris Diver, gave the crowd a sight of her dynamic running skills, England winger Sue Day opened the scoring with a try in the corner. Twenty minutes into the game this was followed by a further try by England's other wing, Sarah Marsh bringing the score to Ireland 0 England 10.
Even as Ireland defended doggedly, the feeling grew that if the England backs were to begin playing with their usual aplomb the damage to Ireland would be even greater. So it proved to be with three more England tries in the first half taking the score to Ireland 0, England 22. The second half saw the England girls move into top gear and running in four more tries they left Ireland's Women gasping in the wake of a 46 to 3 defeat.
Playing Ireland at Thomond Park, Home of Munster Rugby, was always going to be a challenge particularly with some of the England first team away at the Hong Kong Sevens. But in the end England were able to produce the form of their other Six Nations games with yet another try for Chris Diver who ended as England's top points scorer for the championships.
For Ireland this had been a mixed campaign with their first ever Six Nations win against France and two solid home performances at their new home ground, Thomond Park. England having won all of their games in the 2003 Six Nations Championship have run up a total of 277 points for, with only 10 points against and are now indisputable Six Nations and Triple Crown Champions.
England. Head Coach Geoff Richards expressed his and the Team's delight in winning the 2003 Six Nations Championship. "Winning all of our games has proven to the rugby world that we are a dominating force within women's rugby." Tonight's win against Ireland was not an easy one and the Irish Team came out with nothing to lose." "They hit us hard and in difficult and wet conditions the England Team once again showed their great defensive abilities."
Richards observed that: "It has been great to see players such as Chris Diver shine throughout these championships. Chris has had a fantastic Six Nations and has showed that she can perform well at both international and club level."
England Captain, Maxine Edwards, commented: "Tonight's game was a hard one for the team. "We had to concentrate for the whole eighty minutes. "Ireland never gave up and put us under a lot of pressure. " It was great to see Danielle Waterman coming on for Susie Appleby later in the second half. "She is the youngest England player at eighteen years of age and will learn a lot from tonight's game. "She is a great player and it shows the depth of talent within the squad. "It has been an honour to captain the team for the Six Nations and my first season as Captain has been made easier because of the dominance of the England pack providing a solid platform for the backs to show their skills."
At the start of this Six Nations Championship, inevitably the question for England would be, how would they respond to the disappointment of defeat in the World Cup Final in Barcelona? Such ghosts, if they ever existed, have now been well and truly put to rest. Earlier, Geoff Richards had bridled noticeably at the suggestion by one of the Scottish Coaches that the England Squad are all full time professional rugby players. " How wrong is the perception that all of my England Squad are full time rugby players. "Of the twenty-two that are in the Squad for the game (Scotland), seventeen are in full time employment, three work part time and one is a student. "The majority have to juggle their work and training / playing commitments as do the majority of international women players."
Given such constraints, all the more credit then to the England Team, a well-balanced side with a mixture of experience and youth that bodes well for the future. Although given a stern test by the Scottish pack, England have a powerful and dominant pack of forwards ably led by Captain Maxine Edwards. Hardly fair to select names amongst so many talents but as always given a good pack, the backs are the icing on the cake and the ball handling skills and vibrant running of all of England's backs has been a pleasure to watch, if not play against. Geoff Richards did well to point to the success of Chris Diver, a player with running lines, speed and composure to test any defence but her performance has been matched by the silky running skills of Sue Day and Nicky Crawford, while the England centres, Nicki Jupp and Assunta de Biase, have been secure in defence and attack.
Being Head Coach of the England Women's Team may not attract as much media attention as does that of the men, for which much thanks, Geoff Richards might say. But no team could attain the level of skill, athleticism and performance in the way that England's Women have without the discreet, caring guidance and support of their Head Coach. The England Women's Squad and indeed the RFUW must hope that Geoff Richards isn't attracted to pastures new, albeit more hazardous. Being Head Coach of England's Women may be both the best job in the World and the worst job in the World, but of one thing there can be no doubt, Geoff Richards is definitely the right man for the job.
The England Women will now join with their counterparts in the Men's game in preparing for their next big challenge, the Churchill Cup. An annual tournament for the men's and women's teams of The United States, Canada and England with the inaugural tournament to be staged in Canada and to kick off in June.
Sadly the England Women in Hong Kong were unable to emulate the success of the England Men in the seven a side game, where they were beaten by The New Zealand Black Ferns 27 to 0 in the final of the Cable & Wireless Women's Rugby Sevens. But then, in New Zealand, all through the summer there are touch rugby competitions going on, where men and women play in the same team and in this way the women's fitness levels and ball-handling skills match that of the men's. Insurance implications aside could this ever happen here?
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