The new Women’s Super Rugby league kicks off this weekend!

Summer’s over, and that means club rugby is back! With a flashy new name and a few new teams, the inaugural women’s Super Rugby season kicks off this weekend and it promises to be a cracker.

What’s the difference between this league and the old one?

The league this year contains ten teams as opposed to eight in the old Women’s Premiership. Sadly long-time Premiership stalwarts Lichfield Ladies were booted out of the top division during the negotiating phase, and in their place two new teams have been added: Loughborough Students (Lightning) and Gloucester-Hartpury Women. Aylesford Bulls, who also played in the old Women’s Premiership, have been taken over by Harlequin F.C. and now play under the name Harlequins Ladies.

There is also no relegation from Super Rugby during the first two seasons, which is understandable as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) want to give the teams time to develop and improve, but could be seen as unfair to the clubs in the lower North and South leagues, who have no hope of gaining promotion to Super Rugby until at least 2020.

What’s the format?

The structure of the season is the same as the men’s Premiership, with all teams playing each other home and away, before the top four teams in the table play off in semi-finals (1st v 4th, 2nd v 3rd) to determine who reaches the final.

Who’s in the league?

As previously mentioned, ten teams will take part in Super Rugby:

Round 1 Fixtures

Loughborough Lightning v Worcester Ladies
Saturday 16th September at 12.00, Main Pitch, Loughborough University

Firwood Waterloo Ladies v Saracens Women
Saturday 16th September at 14.30

Wasps Ladies v Harlequins Ladies
Saturday 16th September at 15.00, Twyford Avenue Sports Ground

Darlington Mowden Park Sharks v Gloucester-Hartpury Women
Saturday 16th September at 16.00, The Northern Echo Area

Bristol Ladies v Richmond Women
Sunday 17th September at 14.00, Cleve RFC

 

Image credit: englandrugby.com

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WRWC: The Final Review – England v New Zealand

Firstly, apologies for the lateness of this review, but hopefully it will have been worth the wait.

Two teams. Forty six players. Eighty minutes. One World Cup trophy. After nearly two weeks of scintillating women’s rugby, England and New Zealand emerged as the Rugby World Cup finalists, and as the two teams ran out on a clear Belfast evening, the stage was set for perhaps the greatest final yet.

The Red Roses set out their stall early, dominating possession and creating chances, but New Zealand held firm and when they got their hands on the ball, scored the first points of the evening. A crossfield kick from fly-half Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali found its way into the hands of Winiata, via a fortunate bounce off Portia Woodman’s knee, and the full-back sped across the line for the first try.

The Red Roses hit back through a penalty try, as a five metre scrum sent the New Zealand pack back over their own line at a rate of knots. And they had their second after a good break by centre Rachael Burford. Katy McLean then attacked the short side, taking the ball to the line and then firing out a lovely flat pass to wing Lydia Thompson who beat the desperate tackle of her opposite number and flew over the line. England had the wind in their sails and a twelve-point lead, the score 17 – 5 to the Red Roses.

But the Black Ferns came back strongly and worked their way back up to England’s try-line. A nice short pass to prop Natua fooled the English defence and she showed great awareness to ground the ball over the line. As the half-time whistle sounded, though, the Red Roses were in the lead, winning 17 – 10.

When the teams emerged for the second half, Natua picked up where she left off, again crashing over from close range and saving her team-mate Subritzky-Nafatali’s blushes after the fly-half had rather butchered an overlap on the right.

The Black Ferns were really turning the screw now, and again scored a try around the ruck area, lock Charmain Smith showing good knowledge of the rules to dot the ball down against the base of the post. The Red Roses were fast losing their grip on the game, and the Kiwis were outmuscling them up front.

Luckily for them, wing Lydia Thompson showed her skills with a brilliant individual score, catching a Kiwi cross-field kick and then skinning Portia Woodman to go over for her second try of the night. It has to be said that for all her attacking prowess, Woodman’s defence is at times poor, and she had a bad game against Thompson in the sides’ previous meeting in June as well.

England were now leading by just one point heading into the final twenty five minutes, but again the Kiwis’ attacked the fringes of the ruck and reaped big rewards, and prop Natua had her hat-trick try (yes, you read that correctly – a prop got a hat-trick!).

New Zealand were back on England’s five metre line, and again the Red Roses’ poor defence around the fringes allowed scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge to dart over the line and stretch the Kiwis’ lead to 36 – 25, and there was a growing sense that the Black Ferns were starting to turn the screw.

And the pressure showed, another New Zealand attack resulting in a try. Again the Black Ferns attacked the fringes and drew in the English defence, but this time the ball came out to the backs and Subritzky-Nafatali put in a nicely weighted cross-field kick. With only Kay Wilson against three Kiwis, it was almost inevitable that one of them would score, and Hohepa caught the kick and offloaded to the waiting Winiata, who jogged over the line and dotted down, all but extinguishing the Red Roses’ hopes of retaining their title.

The Red Roses were now 26 points adrift, but they were determined to go down fighting and their rolling maul produced a try for Izzy Noel-Smith. However, it wasn’t enough to earn them the win, and when the final whistle went three minutes later, New Zealand were deserved victors and World Champions, winning 41 – 32.

Watch the highlights here

Watch the full match here

England 32 (17)

Tries: Penalty, Thompson (2), Noel-Smith Conversions: Penalty, Scarratt (2) Penalties: Scarratt (2)

New Zealand 41 (10)

Tries: Winiata (2), Natua (3), Smith, Cocksedge Conversions: Cocksedge (3)

POTM: A tough one in many respects as the Red Roses lost the game, but every single player wearing white gave their absolute all, something that is often forgotten when some fans look to blame their team when they lose. For me, though, one player who stood out for England was wing Lydia Thompson. She scored two great tries which kept the Red Roses in the game, and for me, outshone the much-vaunted Portia Woodman.

Analysis

Firstly, what a fitting finale to this World Cup. These two teams are at the forefront of the women’s game and to see the strength and skills on show from both sides was truly fantastic. It was a brilliant advert for women’s rugby and has hopefully got more people interested and excited about the sport.

Now, onto the Red Roses. Apart from their poor defence around the rucks (which let in a few Kiwi tries), they played well. They just came up against a team who were better than them, who were smarter in their play and thoroughly exploited England’s weaknesses. It will be a tough hurdle for this team to get over, but to know that you played well and were still beaten is better than playing dreadfully and getting thrashed, and I’ve no doubt that the Red Roses will come back in November better than ever.

Congratulations to the Black Ferns, they are very worthy champions indeed.

WRWC: The Final

This is it – the World Cup final is tomorrow night, and the two best teams in the world will face off in what promises to be a spectacular display of rugby.

The Red Roses, the defending champions, against New Zealand, World Number 1s. Both teams dominated their pool groups, but while New Zealand had a fairly easy win against the USA in the semi-final, England had to work incredibly hard to overcome a tough French side. With those games only four days ago, fatigue is almost certain to play a role in the outcome of the final.

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WRWC: England into World Cup Final after tough test against France

The Red Roses have reached the World Cup final after overcoming a strong French side 20 – 3.

On a wet evening in Belfast, the two Six Nations opponents traded early blows, but it was the French who got off to the best start, putting the Red Roses under immense pressure in their own half. However, the English defence held firm and kept France out.

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WRWC: Red Roses beat spirited USA side to top Pool B

The Red Roses have booked their place in the World Cup semi-finals with a 47 – 26 win over the USA in their final pool match. Tries from McLean, Scarratt, Packer (2), Wilson Hardy and Cokayne, plus a penalty try, saw England safely through to the knock-out stages, but their opponents are also through after scoring a late bonus-point try.

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England name team for Pool B decider against the USA

Red Roses coach Simon Middleton has made six changes to the side which beat Italy three days ago as England look to advance into the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Regular skipper Sarah Hunter returns to the starting line-up at Number 8, while Alex Matthews and Marlie Packer, who both had storming games against Italy, complete the back row.

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WRWC: Red Roses score ten tries in big win over Italy

England scored another ten tries in their second World Cup pool match against Italy on Sunday afternoon, although a series of handling errors took the sheen off the win and left them with plenty to work on.

In fact they could have had two or three tries in the opening minutes, but knock-ons from Marlie Packer and Amy Wilson Hardy, both with the try-line in their sights, meant England came up with nothing to show for their early dominance.

The opening ten minutes was almost all played in the Italians’ half, but England were their own worst enemies. When Italy did get the ball back, their kicking let them down and one such clearance was caught by full-back Danielle Waterman, who proceeded to step past three Italians and break the line. The ball came out to Emily Scarratt, who showed great strength to hold off an Italian defender and score the opening try. She missed the conversion, but at least the Red Roses were on the board after their early pressure.

Alex Matthews scored the Red Roses’ second try after winger Amy Wilson Hardy sliced through the heart of the Italian defence, showing great pace. Matthews, on the shoulder of fly-half Amber Reed, ran a good line and went straight through the gap between two front row players to run in under the posts. Scarratt converted and the Red Roses led 12 – 0.

They wouldn’t have it all their own way though, as shortly after that score Italy kicked a penalty and then scored a try of their own. They were patient and accurate, pulling the English defence from one side of the pitch to the other. When the ball was spun wide, the Italians made the most of the overlap they’d created and winger Magatti dived over to score. Although the conversion was missed, the Italians were right back in the game and deservedly so, the score 12 – 8 after twenty minutes.

This seemed to galvanise the Red Roses somewhat, and they turned to their hugely successful rolling maul which once again marched up the field. The backs then repaid their forwards’ hard work with a good back-line try, winger Lydia Thompson scoring in the corner. With the conversion again missed, England led 17 – 8.

The Red Roses were playing well in fits and starts, but their handling let them down and they wasted several opportunities as the first half came to a close. However, they did manage to secure the bonus-point try just before the half ended. Back row players Matthews and Packer both had strong runs, before the ball was whipped out to the right where three England players stood unmarked. Hooker Amy Cokayne was the one who got the ball, and she dotted down for an easy score. Scarratt missed the conversion, but England left the pitch leading 22 – 8.

The start of the second half saw a change in fly-half, as Katy McLean replaced Rachael Burford and Amber Reed shifted out to inside centre. McLean immediately got the attack ticking along nicely, and the Red Roses looked much more organised with her at the helm. A nice inside ball to Marlie Packer and a good pass from the replacement saw Tamara Taylor go over three minutes into the second half.

And McLean was at it again a few minutes later, just holding onto the ball for a fraction of a second to hold the defence before popping the pass to an onrushing Emily Scarratt, who ran a lovely line and scored her second try of the afternoon. She failed to convert her try, but England were starting to look very dangerous.

Italian full-back Furlan obviously decided to prove that the Italians weren’t beaten yet, and when she spotted two props in front of her, she promptly darted between them and set off downfield. The Italians earned a penalty for an early tackle and kicked to touch, before giving England a taste of their own medicine and setting up a maul which the Red Roses did well to stop. The danger hadn’t passed, though, and a few pick-and-drives later lock Giordano went over for the Italians’ second score. The conversion was missed, but England now led 34 – 13.

The Red Roses replied almost immediately with their sixth try of the afternoon, Packer and Matthews again with good runs into the heart of the Italian defence. Scarratt nearly went in for her hat-trick after another well-timed inside ball from McLean, but quick hands down the short side saw Waterman power over to score. The conversion was yet again missed, and England led 39 – 13 with twenty-five minutes still to play.

And Waterman added her second try a couple of minutes later. She got the ball in space and had Wilson Hardy outside her, but didn’t need her as she dummied and then stepped inside the full back to score under the posts. Amber Reed converted the score, a welcome relief for all concerned after the poor quality of most of the conversion attempts in this match.

England continued to pressure the Italians, the half pairing of McLean and Mason directing play well. With five minutes to go, another piece of Waterman brilliance sparked an England attack, showing her strength as she handed off a couple of defenders and broke the line. The ball was recycled and spun out wide, where centre Megan Jones took a half step which held the outside defender, then passed to wing Lydia Thompson who ran in to score England’s ninth try of the afternoon.

And they managed to squeeze in one more try before the final whistle blew, this one a fantastic team effort. Good, accurate passing from both forwards and backs allowed the Red Roses to move the ball swiftly from one side of the pitch to the other, making their way methodically up to the Italians’ try line. Another inside ball from McLean, this time to Wilson Hardy, split the Italians open once again and the winger ran  in to score. The conversion was once again missed, but England had more than enough points in the end, winning 56 – 13.

England 56 (13)
Tries:
 Scarratt (2), Matthews, Thompson (2), Cokayne, Taylor, Waterman (2), Wilson Hardy. Conversions: Scarratt (2) Reed, Thompson

Italy 13 (13)
Tries: Magatti, Giordano Pens: Schiavon

Watch the match highlights here.

POTM: Danielle Waterman had a fantastic game, her pace and footwork sparking many an England attack. Her ability to beat defenders is ridiculous at times, and she finds space in the tightest of areas. Katy McLean again had a great game – she took the ball to the line and her flat passes to the likes of Alex Matthews and Marlie Packer allowed the back row to run rampant in that second half. The difference in attack with her at the helm was pretty vast, and she is certainly an incredibly valuable player for the Red Roses at the moment. But my POTM actually goes to two players this week – back rowers Marlie Packer and Alex Matthews. Both were superb in attack – not only are they big, strong runners, but they are incredibly intelligent players; they are so good at picking their running lines, and are so often on the ball-carrier’s shoulder, ready to receive an offload. Packer was also busy in defence, winning a few turnovers at the breakdown.

Analysis

Well, England scored another ten tries and the scoreline suggests that they dominated the Italians. However, for large portions of the first half, and even into the second half, the Red Roses were well below the level that we’ve come to expect from them in recent months. Basic handling errors just killed their momentum and poor passing stunted their attack. They were also a bit sloppy at the breakdown, allowing the Italians to disrupt their ball and thus slow down their attack.

Starting fly-half Amber Reed also struggled somewhat to get her back-line going, and while she actually had a solid game, the difference when McLean came on showed what England had been lacking in that play-maker role.

Place kicking remains a big issue – neither Scarratt, McLean or Reed have shown much aptitude for taking kicks so far, and hopefully they will spend the next two days practicing conversions from dawn to dusk.

Anyway, onto the positives. The line-out improved enormously from last game’s almost shambolic performance. The return of Tamara Taylor showed what England had been lacking in terms of a real leader at the line-out, and combined with the accurate throwing of Amy Cokayne meant that the Red Roses got clean ball off the top to either pass out to the backs or set up their rolling maul – a much better state of affairs than last game, where just retaining possession was beyond the capabilities of the English line-out at times.

The back row were stand-out performers, all three having great games. Marlie Packer was typically industrious, winning turnovers and rampaging through the Italian defence, Izzy Noel-Smith worked tirelessly at the breakdown, and Alex Matthews was very impressive in attack. Amy Cokayne also had a good game, as did Waterman and Scarratt in the backs, and young Megan Jones continues to impress.

All in all, it was a mixed performance from the Red Roses. For most of the second half they looked in fine form, the replacement backs and McLean in particular making a big difference to the attack. The fact that they remembered how to catch and pass also helped, but they cannot afford to make so many basic errors as they did in the first half again this tournament, as the better teams will certainly punish them more than Italy did.