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Here come the girls - Women's Rugby World Cup 2010

Women's Rugby World Cup 2010
Venue: Surrey Sports Park, Guildford (group stages) and Twickenham Stoop (semis and final) Dates: Fri 20 August - Sun 5 September
Coverage: Watch main matches live on Sky Sports, Highlights of knock-out stages on BBC Sport (UK users only)

By Sara Orchard
BBC London

The Women's Rugby World Cup is coming to England. Not only that, but the host nation has a good chance of winning it.

This will be the sixth global tournament since 1991 and England have been in four of the previous five finals, winning it in 1994.

Victory over reigning champions New Zealand at Twickenham last November has raised hopes of a second title, while Wales, Ireland and Scotland are also among the 12 countries taking part.

But if you're not convinced of the merits of the fairer sex playing the oval-ball game, maybe it's time to take a look at women's rugby through a fresh pair of eyes.

A PURER FORM OF THE GAME

Let's start with the hard core rugby union fans amongst you. You're probably used to the men's Premiership or Magners League, or Six Nations, and that's the way you like it.

But have you ever considered that by watching women's rugby you're actually exposing yourself to a purer version of the sport?

England pair Charlotte Barras and Rachel Burford tackle New Zealand's Victoria Grant at Twickenham last November
England and New Zealand are the pre-eminent forces in the women's game

Often in men's rugby at the top level you see two things which are detrimental to the spectator's enjoyment. One is the endless territorial kicking which the International Rugby Board is continuing to try to address with tweaks to the laws. The other is that players can be very good at bending the laws and trying to influence the referee. It all adds up to a less pure and often irritating game.

In women's rugby the pace may be a bit slower but the skill levels are still high. You see more rugby being played as tactics dictate that players tend to keep the ball in hand.

And if you're worried about not seeing the same passion and aggression as in the men's game, then you've never watched England scrum-half Amy Turner.

Whilst the women are not innocent when it comes to law-breaking, you see far less of the 'push the laws to the limit' philosophy that dominates in the professional men's game.

IS WOMEN'S RUGBY 'FEMININE'?

A frequent argument against women's rugby is that it isn't feminine, with a stereotypical image of butch women in ill-fitting kit covered in mud.

I played rugby union for six years and played with women of all shapes and sizes; there was never a norm.

2010 WOMEN'S RUGBY WORLD CUP
12 teams in 3 pools
Pool A: New Zealand, Wales, Australia, South Africa
Pool B: England, USA, Ireland, Kazakhstan
Pool C: France, Canada, Scotland, Sweden

We all know how pressurized young girls feel these days about image - I know I did at school and university. But the rugby field was probably the only place where I could forget all my personal body hang-ups. Every shape and size has a place on the rugby field.

It is an arena to celebrate the female form, not immediately let the mind conjure up the obvious clichés. All women need is a desire to play, and the evidence suggests they certainly have that.

The game is enjoying unprecedented growth in England. There are currently nearly 14,000 women and girls playing the game, including 8000 youth-registered players, in 300 clubs and more than 500 teams across the country.

MEDIA COVERAGE

The coverage of women's team sports in the media is pretty poor (guilty as charged).

This is all part of a vicious cycle. To get the coverage, you need success and profile. To get that, you need money to be able to do it.

606: DEBATE

Women's team sports are not covered in the same numbers as individual sports like athletics and tennis; it's getting better but at the moment there is still a huge gap. Why?

In tennis, whether you like it or not, the women are perceived as sexy and without the same power as the men, their long rallying can make for a more interesting game.

In football the women's 2007 World Cup attracted an audience of nearly two million on BBC2, but the first thing you hear in our office when we put the women's football on is that 'it's just not as good as the men's game because of the goalkeeping'.

England beat Scotland in 2010 Six Nations

It's still football though, you just need to learn to appreciate it for different reasons. Poor goalkeeping can often mean you get more goals - isn't that the best bit of any match?

Other women's sports - notably Twenty20 and one-day cricket, and netball - have received regular coverage on Sky Sports, while BBC Sport has shown women's hockey and Six Nations rugby online.

Sky will broadcast 13 matches live from the Women's World Cup, with BBC Sport showing highlights of the knock-out stages.

In addition, broadcasters from North America, Europe, Oceania, the Middle East and Africa will also show live matches in their territories.

PREVIOUS WRWC FINALS
2006: NZ bt England 25-17
2002: NZ bt England 19-9
1998: NZ bt USA 44-12
1994: England bt USA 38-23
1991: USA bt England 19-6

The amount of coverage for women's team sports is changing but it's our mindsets as sports fans that have to change as well.

Do their achievements get the recognition they deserve?

In 2009 the England women's cricket team won the World Cup, the World Twenty20, and retained their Ashes, with batsman Claire Taylor the first woman named in Wisden's Cricketers of the Year.

But it was the men, who won the Ashes, who walked off with the BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year Award.

ROLE MODELS

If you're a little disillusioned with the England men's football team, maybe the players at the Women's Rugby World Cup can restore your faith in sports people.

The England women's rugby set-up is one of the most professional you'll come across. Then consider that the players have full-time jobs which they combine with their rugby careers.

England back-rowers Heather Fisher, captain Catherine Spencer, Maggie Alphonsi and Karen Jones celebrate their 2010 Six Nations Grand Slam
Spencer (second left) led England to their fourth Grand Slam and fifth straight Six Nations title in March

The England captain Catherine Spencer was used to getting up at 6am every day to fit in a training session before her day job at a Gloucester leisure centre, but decided to resign in May to dedicate herself solely to the pursuit of World Cup glory.

The 31-year-old is the perfect example of an England captain, a role model for the young and impressionable. She is kind and friendly, has no airs or graces, appears comfortable in all social situations and is incredibly passionate about her sport.

The examples do not stop at the captain. At a recent England Women's international, one injured player, full-back Danielle Waterman, had organised a charity collection and roped in several other non-playing girls to help.

All of them were mingling with the crowd shaking their buckets. They weren't encouraged to do this by sponsors or the RFUW, they'd done it themselves.

I'd recommend anyone getting down to the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford or the Twickenham Stoop later this month for what promises to be a tremendous sporting spectacle.

You never know, you might see England lift a World Cup on home soil.



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see also
Wales wary of NZ World Cup power
30 Jun 10 |  Welsh
England Women lose Allan for Cup
05 Aug 10 |  English
England women secure Grand Slam
22 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
England Women retain Six Nations
19 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
England's women delight rugby HQ
24 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
England Women beat world champs
21 Nov 09 |  English
England Women 17-25 New Zealand
18 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union


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