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Page last updated at 19:56 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

England's women delight rugby HQ

Launch of 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup
Spencer (centre right) joins fellow captains at the 2010 World Cup launch

By Aimee Lewis

There has been little laughter in the corridors of Twickenham of late so the presence of England women's captain Catherine Spencer brought some much-welcomed light relief to HQ.

"It's an unusual experience for me to be sitting next to a winning captain," chortled Rugby Football Union chairman Martyn Thomas at the launch of next year's Women's Rugby World Cup.

It was of no surprise to hear Spencer and the rest of her team being showered with praise.

As the final whistle blew on an all too predictable 19-6 loss to New Zealand for Martin Johnson and co, waiting in the wings were their female counterparts, eagerly anticipating playing in front of a record Twickenham crowd in what was an England double header.

England's women took to the sodden turf as if it had been home for an age and defeated the Black Ferns for the first time since 2001.

And no-one had a greater influence on that 10-3 victory than number eight Spencer, who produced what England women's coach Gary Street described as "one of the great Twickenham performances".

To add to the fairytale, the 30-year-old scored the game's solitary try on what was her 50th appearance for the national team.

England women's captain Catherine Spencer
It's clear to see from the support we got at Twickenham that women's rugby is making progress

Catherine Spencer

"I'm really tired but in a good way," says Spencer after spending three hours of her Monday morning talking to the media and posing for photographs. "I'm going to get a good night sleep tonight.

"It's a really important win and it was massively important that New Zealand came over here and toured.

"I think to come out 1-1 in the series is the best result we could have asked for. We really need to step up now and work towards the Six Nations and the World Cup."

England had lost the first match of the series against the world champions 16-3, but playing in front of a live television audience and before 12,500 fans at Twickenham gave the women the impetus they needed.

During the build-up to the second Test, England had received hundreds good luck messages from all over the world - Latvia, Malta and Croatia to name a few, with head coach Street spending three hours checking his "inundated" e-mail account.

Spencer admits the players took "something extra on the pitch" thanks to the booming support of the crowd.

But barely have the aching limbs begun to recover and the focus is back on training, back on developing a squad capable of winning next year's World Cup, and back on increasing the game's profile.

"It was fantastic to get the support we did and get people watching it," says Spencer, who sandwiches two training sessions a day in between her full-time job as an office manager.

"It felt really special to have the support and apparently some of the England men were watching, too.

"We just need to keep doing what we are doing and keep the momentum. It's clear to see from the support we got at Twickenham that women's rugby is making progress."

Indeed, it is hoped next year's World Cup, which will be held in London, will be a "catalyst for growth and development of the game", so said the International Rugby Board's chief executive Mike Miller.

Catherine Spencer scored the only try in England women's victory over New Zealand
Martyn Thomas (left) and Catherine Spencer at the launch of next year's Women's Rugby World Cup

The game is undoubtedly making significant inroads. There are more than 700 women's and girls' teams in England, while earlier this year Carole Isherwood became the first woman to be appointed on to the IRB's rugby committee.

"Women's rugby is a great sport and the reaction I get from people who have just watched it for the first time is always positive," says the Bristol forward.

"When I started it was very unusual for women to be playing rugby. I played mini rugby with the boys and there weren't many women's teams around. But now the numbers have started to increase, the opportunities are now there so hopefully that will trickle through in the future."

But England's women know that nothing breeds success like success itself, as the country's female cricketers have proven with their Ashes and World Cup victories.

And for Street preparations for the World Cup, a title they won in 1994, began after defeat in the final by New Zealand in the tournament three years ago.

He said: "Psychologically the victory over New Zealand was important because the players now have belief, but for me it was about the performance. We've been preparing for the World Cup for a long time.

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"To make sure the players were well-prepared for tournament rugby we played in the Nations Cup in Canada.

"People told me I was putting too much pressure on them, but if you play that form of rugby regularly, playing a number of games in quick succession, you are going to be better prepared.

"The depth of the squad is going to improve. You're not going to win the World Cup without a good squad."

Asked if England could win the World Cup, which for the hosts starts against Ireland on August 20, and Spencer plays a straight bat.

But Street is far more willing with his predictions: "If we can play to our potential then we can win the World Cup."


Women's 2010 World Cup pools:

Pool A: New Zealand, Wales, Australia, South Africa

Pool B: England, USA, Ireland, Kazakhstan

Pool C: France, Canada, Scotland, Sweden



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see also
Wales rally after World Cup shock
26 Nov 09 |  Welsh
England Women beat world champs
21 Nov 09 |  English
England 6-19 New Zealand
21 Nov 09 |  English
England Women win to retain title
21 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
England Women 52 -7 France Women
15 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
England women back in title chase
04 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Wales Women 16-15 England Women
14 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union


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