‘Showdown at Twickenham’
There was a time when England’s Women’s Team was destined to be always game losers and runners-up to the mighty New Zealand Black Ferns! However, the closeness of the 2010 World Cup Final held at the Stoop when the Black Ferns edged England by a mere three points added to the public perception, long held by England’s Management, that the number one spot was there for the taking by England. Since then the three match series against the Black Ferns in November 2011 had gone England’s way with two wins out of three with one match drawn including a historic win for England at Twickenham.
In the second test of this their current three test series, last night at Aldershot, an England side much changed from the team that had narrowly defeated the New Zealand Black Ferns at Esher RFC on the previous Saturday 16 points to 13, increased their winning margin and ran out winners in a closely fought game by 17 points to 8.
A convincing enough score line in the end, but for long periods the England lead was only two points as a result of an early second half Black Ferns Kelly Brazier penalty, England having led 10 points to 5 at the interval. England then showed their mettle when, in spite of losing first half try scorer Hannah Gallagher to the sin bin, they still powered forward and eventually pacey Worcester centre Joanne Watmore found a great line and raced through the Black Ferns defence to touch down close to the posts putting the result beyond doubt and making the conversion a formality for Emily Scarratt.
After the match England’s Sarah Hunter acknowledged that the team didn’t always execute as well as they could but that the passion of the girls took them through. She paid tribute to the Black Ferns, ‘New Zealand is a rugby nation and they never give in’.
Head Coach Gary Street who had made eleven changes to the team from the first test pointed out the characteristic of his players: ‘They believe in each other and they believe in themselves’. Looking forward to the final test at Twickenham he added: ‘There’ll be a whole raft of changes again – that’s our way, that’s our style, whoever is the strongest and the fittest we’ll put out on the pitch’.
That England is now able to compete for World leadership owes much to many individuals over the years. Initially it was Rosie Williams with then Head Coach Geoff Richards, who put in place a vibrant framework for the women’s game throughout the country, but the self-belief came with the arrival of Gary Street as Head Coach ably assisted by Graham Smith. Important too was the RFU’s late conversion (some may say they simply embraced success) of the women’s game, all of which led to the successful 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup and the emergence of Women’s Rugby as a truly main stream sport internationally.
Both Street and Smith are coaches dedicated by choice to the women’s branch of the sport and bringing out the best in their players. In turn the prospective players needed no further encouragement, forced as they were to compete with the many who now aspire to top honours in women’s rugby, and the fitness, athleticism, dedication and strength in depth of the players available to Street speaks well for the success of England’s management over the years. Whereas in the past it could always be said that the Black Ferns went out onto the pitch expecting to win, the same can now be said for England. The showdown at Twickenham beckons – game on!