Women’s Sports Column

netball223 – 29 January

This week’s stories come from tennis, football, rugby union, netball and cricket.  There’s a mix of some of the best action of the week plus a look forward to what’s coming up in the next couple of months.

Firstly, if you haven’t got involved in Sport Relief as yet, there’s still time.  The This Girl Can campaign has released new short films to show how girls and women can get involved.  “Slow fundraising beats no fundraising” is the message.  There’s so much you can do and so many organised events on the weekend Friday 18 to Sunday 20 March.  For more information see sportrelief.com and www.thisgirlcan.co.uk.

Biggest cheer of the week must go to Britain’s Johanna Konta.  She reached the semi-final of the Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne.

Since the last column was published, Konta beat Denisa Allertova from the Czech Republic 6-2 6-2 and then dispatched 21st seed Ekaterina Makarova 4-6 6-4 8-6.

In the quarter-final Konta was up against the unseeded conqueror of Simona Halep, Zhang Shuai.  She eased past her 6-4 6-1 to become the first British woman to reach a grand slam semi-final since Jo Durie in 1983.

Her semi-final opponent was sixth seed Angelique Kerber.  It was just a match too far and she was beaten 7-5 6-2.  Kerber was always going to be a step up, but it didn’t help that Konta’s game was beset by unforced errors.   Konta’s recent form will see her jump from her current ranking of 47 in the world to 28.

Konta’s Australian run has been described as a “fairytale” in some media outlets, but this does not do her justice.  There was no element of luck or unreality – it was all down to Konta’s incredible hard work and mental toughness.  Let’s give her the credit and leave the “fairytale” out of it.

In the final on Saturday 30 January, Kerber will face world number one, Serena Williams, who smashed fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0 6-4 in their semi-final.

Britain’s wheelchair tennis ace, Jordanne Whiley, did not fare so well this week.  She lost in the quarter-final of the singles 6-7 6-4 4-6, and in the semi-finals of the doubles with her British partner Lucy Shuker, 6-7 6-4 3-6.

The women’s doubles title was taken by top seeds and current Wimbledon and US Open champions, Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza.  They beat the Czech pairing of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 7-6 6-3.

Along with the release of the 2016 FAWSL fixtures this week has come another raft of transfers.  Liverpool seem to be hottest in the market as they have made the surprise signing of winger Natasha Harding after she was released by Manchester City.  Harding only signed for City in March 2015.

City themselves have signed an immediate replacement in Swedish striker Kosovare Asllani.

Liverpool have, however, lost Asisat Oshoala to fellow title-hopefuls Arsenal.  The Nigerian player was named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year in May 2015.

The new FAWSL One and Two season will begin on Wednesday 23 March.  It is set to be the most exciting yet with an expanded division one nine-team league.

The first week of fixtures looks like this:

Wednesday 23 March

FA WSL 1

19:00 Manchester City Women v Notts County Ladies
FC Academy Stadium

19:30 Liverpool Ladies FC v Birmingham City Ladies
Select Security Stadium

19:45 Arsenal Ladies FC v Reading FC Women
Boreham Wood FC

FA WSL 2

19:00 Bristol City Women v Yeovil Town Ladies FC
Stoke Gifford Stadium

19:00 Sheffield FC Ladies v Durham Women FC
Sheffield FC

19:45 London Bees v Watford Ladies FC
The Hive

Sunday 27 March 2016

FA WSL 2

14:00 Aston Villa Ladies FC v Oxford United Women
Sutton Coldfield Central Ground

14:00 Millwall Lionesses v Everton Ladies FC
Millwall Football Club

14:00 Watford Ladies FC v Yeovil Town Ladies FC
Berkhamsted FC

Monday 28 March 2016

FA WSL 1

14:00 Chelsea Ladies FC v Liverpool Ladies FC
Staines Town FC

15:00 Manchester City Women v Arsenal Ladies FC
Academy Stadium

FA WSL 2

12:00 Durham Women FC v London Bees
New Ferens Park

There will be increased broadcast coverage via the BBC and BT.  Let’s hope the print media follows suit (I’m available if anyone needs me).  Otherwise you can keep up with it all at www.fawsl.com.

The RBS Six Nations begins on Friday 5 February.  Defending champions, Ireland, will be confident of taking the title again, while World Champions, England, realise they must improve on their poor fourth-place finish of last year.

The first weekend’s fixtures are:

Friday 5 February

18:00 Scotland Women v England Women
Broadwood Stadium

Saturday 6 February

13:00 Ireland Women v Wales Women
Donnybrook

21:00 France Women v Italy Women
Stade Marcel Verchere.

England’s Roses suffered a series whitewash 3-0 against World and Commonwealth champions Australia this week.  After a close-fought first game, as reported last week, with England just losing out 52-58, Australia really piled on the pressure and rarely looked threatened in either of the other two games.

The second match, played in front of a sell-out crowd at the Copper Box in London, was tight for a while, with England holding a four goal lead in the second quarter, only to see it vanish by half-time and to be trailing by 25-23.  The second half was much more one-sided and the Diamonds went on to close it out 60-44.

The third game, also at the Copper Box, was, in truth, also somewhat one-sided.  Australia ran out convincing winners 53-41.

This is not to say that England were out of their depth.  It is a young squad and showed good maturity and determination throughout.  Sasha Corbin was my player of the series, although the official Roses player of the series was Goalkeeper Ama Agbeze.  Sharni Layton (also Goalkeeper) was the Aussie player of the series.

Netball’s popularity and fanbase just keeps growing.  The domestic season starts this weekend with Super Saturday at the Genting Arena in Birmingham.  All eight Superleague teams will be taking part and it will all be shown live on Sky from 2pm as part of their Netball Month.

 Two momentous events in women’s cricket occurred this week.

In the all-Sydney inaugural WBBL final the Sydney Thunder beat the Sixers by three wickets.

It was always going to be difficult for the Sixers as they posted a small total of just 115 for the Thunder to chase.

The Sixers won the toss and elected to bat.  They were the in-form team coming into the final – winning nine games in a row to go from also-rans to semi-finalists in the process.  They won their semi-final against the Hobart Hurricanes with ease and looked prepared to upset the favourites in the final.

But it was not to be.  As they regularly lost wickets the Sixers were unable to put together any meaningful partnerships.  Eventual player of the match, spinner Erin Osborne, did the most damage taking 3-21.

The response from the Thunder was not confident though and the Sixers must have thought they were still in with a chance when Captain Ellyse Perry took the wicket of Rene Farrell in the last over with the Thunder needing four to win.   In the end the Sydney Thunder took the game with three balls to spare.

The other event, which has somewhat shaken the world of women’s cricket is that India have gone 2-0 up in a three-match T20 series against Australia, in Australia.

In the first game, in Adelaide on 26 January, they managed their highest ever chase in a T20.  Australia had posted a decent 140 after their poor start left them 17-2 after four overs.  Indeed it wasn’t until Alyssa Healey came in that Australia really put their foot down – Healey hitting 41 off 15 balls, supported by Alex Blackwell with 27 off 22.

India’s reply started uncertainly when Mithali Raj was caught for just four in the second over, but a second wicket partnership of 55 between Smrti Mandhana and Veda Krishnamurthy steadied things for the tourists.  Three quick wickets later India looked in trouble again at 91-4 off 14 overs.  Enter Harmanpreet Kaur.  She scored 46 including one six and six fours, ensuring her team’s victory with eight balls to spare.

The second game, at the MCG, was spoiled by rain.  Australia batted first again and managed 125 for 8 off 18 overs.  Meg Lanning made a creditable 49 but after she was run out at the non-striker’s end Australia went on to lose 5-10 in 14 balls.

India had reached 52-0 in their chase when the rain started again and when it stopped and the D/L total was revised again to just 66, India had no problem in knocking off the extra 14 runs.  Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana were unbeaten on 37 and 22 respectively.

India had won their first ever series against Australia.  The third game takes place at the SCG in Sydney on Sunday 31 January.  Both teams may take the chance to try out some new names in preparation for the World T20, which takes place in India in March and April this year.

Happy to say no “and finally” this week.  There will be no column next week as I will be away, but I’ll be back on the 12th with two weeks of news!

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Women’s Sports Column

rugby ball16 – 22 January

This week’s stories come from  rugby union, netball, cricket, tennis, football and American football.

The new English Premiership champions are Richmond.  They defeated favourites and reigning champions, Saracens, 28-10 at the Stoop on Sunday 17 January.  The challengers never looked in trouble as they stormed to a 22-5 lead at half time with tries from Croker, Shiels and Myers.  Both teams suffered from bouts of indiscipline which took them down to 14 players, but Richmond were better at exploiting their advantage.   Saracens came back with determined effort in the second half and Richmond could only score two penalties.  In truth, the match was over by half time and Richmond worthy winners.

The English netball season started with a vengeance this week with the first in a series of three tests against reigning world champions Australia. The first match, on Wednesday 20 January, took place in front of a packed house at the Liverpool Echo Arena.

In a pulsating match the Roses came up just short, losing to the Diamonds 52-58.

Chance for revenge comes quickly as the second game takes place at London’s Copper Box Arena tonight, Friday 22 January. Full coverage on Sky as part of their netball month.

We now know which two teams will be in the final of the inaugural WBBL – it will be an all-Sydney affair. In the first semi-final Sydney Thunder beat Charlotte Edwards’ Perth Scorchers. The Thunder set the Scorchers 119 to win, but Perth fell short with only 110.

Alex Blackwell top-scored for the Thunder with 39 with the West Indies’ Stafanie Taylor scoring a quick-fire 24.

The Scorchers made heavy weather of it from the start, and although Elyse Villani made 23 and Charlotte Edwards 18, they couldn’t see it through and when Katherine Brunt went LBW in the last over the game was up.

The second semi-final was somewhat of a damp squib with the only real winner being the weather. Hobart Hurricanes had been there or thereabouts for the whole tournament with Captain Heather Knight of England in great form.

However they could only muster 86-8 in the semi-final after a rain-affected 14 overs and after the total to chase was revised to 55 from 8 overs there was only going to be one winner.

Australian veteran Lisa Sthalekar, who came out of retirement to play in this tournament, took a very handy 3-9 for the Sixers off her three overs.

The Sixers chased their target with 10 balls to spare and without losing a wicket. Healy ended 32 not out and Perry 22.

Laura Marsh is now the only England player left in the WBBL. She did not play for the Sixers in the semi-final and it must be doubtful if she will be picked for the final.

The final of the WBBL takes place on Sunday 24 January, showing on SkySports 3 at 2.30am.

Can I recommend you visit the official Rebel WBBL website? It is packed full of interesting articles and some excellent stats, team of the tournament, best wicket-takers, best batting performances, etc – really good for anyone who loves cricket.

In other cricket news, England all-rounder Nat Sciver, has pulled out of the South Africa one-day series through injury. She hopes her ankle will have recovered sufficiently to rejoin the squad for the T20s. Tammy Beaumont will replace Sciver in the one-day squad.

The Australian Open has seen Britain’s number one, Johanna Konta, continuing her excellent form. In her first round match on Tuesday, she beat seven-time grand slam winner Venus Williams in straight sets 6-4 6-2.

She faced China’s Zheng Saisai in round two and duly dispatched her 6-2 6-3.

In the third round she will face Denisa Allertova from the Czech Republic, who defeated 30th seed Sabine Lisicki in round two.

Heather Watson did not fare so well, as she went out in the first round to Timea Babos 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 7-5.

In a surprise footballing move, Arsenal Ladies have signed England’s Fara Williams from Liverpool Ladies on a two-year contract.

Williams, who with 148 caps is England’s most-capped player, looked to be a permanent fixture at Liverpool, and the Gunners are clearly pleased with their successful swoop.

In an interview with the BBC, Arsenal coach Pedro Martinez Losa, said,

“Fara is a great competitor and a fantastic character, too

“She is a player with huge experience at club and international level, and her reading and understanding of games is fantastic.”

American football has appointed its first full-time female coach. Kathryn Smith becomes, and yes this is a thing, “quality control-special teams coach”. The role is about analysing opposing teams ahead of the Bills’ games and is a considerable step up for Smith.

Needless to say, the appointment has been controversial, but Smith has received full support from her colleagues;

Head coach Rex Ryan said, “She certainly deserves this promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment,”

“She has proven that she’s ready for the next step, so I’m excited and proud for her with this opportunity.”

Bills player, MarQeis Gray tweeted,

“Congrats to Coach Kathryn Smith! Welcome aboard! This is a big deal people!”

But others have not been so welcoming, particularly Kevin Kiley of Cleveland radio, who not only insulted Smith, but every woman working in sport by declaring;

“There is no place for a woman in professional sports.”

He called the person who made the choice an “idiot” and then said,

“She couldn’t possibly be qualified to the same level as a man.”

He went on to justify his view with an analogy on the “absurd” idea that women could be qualified to vote for inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,

“Do you want a woman to have a vote on that, who’s never played the game and doesn‘t understand?”

His co-host pointed out that many of the people who vote are sportswriters, and therefore would be unlikely to have played Pro Football. Kiley’s response,

“But they’re men.”

Goodness knows how he’d get on with a female writing about American football! How could that work? I have to admit I’m boggling as I’m writing this. My brain (probably because I’m a mere female) just cannot compute that level of bigotry/stupidity. Let’s hope Kathryn Smith shows him up to be as clueless as he sounds.

And finally, you may have seen my article about this earlier on in the week, but in case you missed it – Ladyball was indeed a spoof on behalf of the Irish Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association and their sponsors, Lidl. I have mixed feelings about this, and not just because it suckered me in good and proper. Read here for details.

 

“Ladyball” was a spoof – but all too believable

ladyballSo I fell for it?  Do you blame me?  More experienced and knowledgeable people than I did the same.

And when it was revealed as a wind-up, all part of the marketing campaign for women’s Gaelic football, I experienced a confused mixture of feelings.

Mostly I castigated myself for falling for it, while part of me was cheering for its sheer audacity.

However, in the cold light of day, my abiding thought is how sad it is that the whole idea was so believable.    Actually, it’s not just sad, but shameful.

The Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association, in conjunction with sponsors Lidl, have admitted they were behind the campaign:

“Lidl and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) will next week announce details of a partnership which will see the brand become the Official Retail Partner to the LGFA and the title sponsors of the Lidl Ladies National Football League, as well as grassroots activity.

“The fabricated product and associated 360 degree marketing campaign was designed by Lidl, with the support of the LGFA, to put the spotlight on women in sport in Ireland and raise awareness of the difficulties female sports persons have in getting the same recognition as their male counterparts.”

In this quote the last sentence is the most telling.  It’s all true, and anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know it is the issue that vexes me the most.  So when I reported on the Ladyball in my blog, I said,

“Is it an elaborate spoof?  I would like to think so, but I fear not…..I’m still hoping someone will inform me that it’s a wind-up”

Now I’m left wondering whether people are going to spend more time congratulating Lidl on the cleverness of their campaign than thinking about the actual points it was aiming to raise.

So yes, as EM Forster would have it, two cheers for the marketing campaign and for bringing sexism in sport into the limelight one more time, but I’ll reserve that last cheer for the moment when this approach isn’t necessary.

 

 

 

 

Women’s Sports Column

8-15 January

So much going on!  Plenty of news this week from cricket, football, rugby union, darts, skiing, motor racing and tennis.  Phew!

But first, it’s a year since the launch of the This Girl Can campaign.  Figures released this week show that 1.6m girls and women between 14 and 40 have started exercise as a result of the initiative.  More than half a million follow the campaign on social media.  And though it’s not for me to advertise retailers, I must add that there is a great new range of sports clothing featuring the This Girl Can slogan now available at Marks and Spencer.  This is the second selection – the first having sold out in no time flat!

If you haven’t bought into it yet, I would encourage you to do so – whatever age, size or shape you are there is something out there that you can enjoy and even excel at.  Check it out.

In cricket, the ECB yesterday announced the six “hosts” (we’re still not using the word “franchises”) who have won four-year contracts for the new Women’s Cricket Super League, which begins this summer.

They are:

Hampshire Cricket with partners: Berkshire Cricket Ltd, Dorset Cricket Board, Isle of Wight Cricket Board, Oxfordshire Cricket, Southampton Solent University, Sussex Cricket, Wiltshire Cricket

Lancashire County Cricket Board with partners: Lancashire County Cricket Club, Lancashire County Cricket Club Foundation

Loughborough University

South West: Somerset County Cricket Club, Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, University of Exeter

Surrey County Cricket Club

Yorkshire County Cricket Club

The most surprising omission from the list is the combined MCC/Middlesex bid which did not get through.  At the moment there are no more details, but follow this column and details will be added as soon as they have been released.

WBBL is reaching its climax in Australia.  Numbers of games played has evened out somewhat and top of the pile at the moment is Sydney Thunder with eight wins from 12 games – 16 points.  Second comes Hobart Hurricanes on 14 points from the same number of games and third, behind on net run rate only, the Melbourne Stars.  The other Melbourne side, the Renegades is rock bottom on six points from 11 matches.

In international football, a new tournament was announced this week – the SheBelieves Cup It will take place in March in America and will be between the hosts, England, Germany and France.  England will play USA on 4 March, Germany on 6 March and France on 10 March.  No news yet as to radio or TV coverage.

Coach, Mark Sampson is keen to take part:

“The opportunity to compete against the three best teams in the world is a crucial step in providing more opportunities for the team to develop.

“Women’s soccer in the USA is on a real high since their World Cup success and we are excited to feel that sense of enthusiasm for the game in some wonderful football stadiums.

“We are thankful to the USA for their work in setting up the event which I am sure in years to come will grow into a stand-out tournament in the women’s football calendar.”

More good news for England this week as Mark Sampson signed an extended contract which will keep him as coach until 2019.

In more international news, the Ballon d’Or awards were held this week.   Unsurprisingly, USA national team coach, Jill Ellis was named 2015 FIFA Coach of the Year for Women’s Football.  Norio Sasaki (Japan) was second Mark Sampson (England), third.

The FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year was USA’s Carli Lloyd.  She scored a 13-minute hat-trick in the World Cup Final of 2015 against Japan.  Runners-up were Celia Sasic (Germany) and Aya Miyama (Japan).

 In domestic news, Millie Farrow and Jodie Brett have joined Bristol City from Chelsea on a season-long loan.

 And finally, as regards football, the FA have named Baroness Sue Campbell as the new Head of

Women’s Football.  Baroness Campbell was head of UK Sport from 2003-2013.

Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of participation and development, called Baroness Campbell “one of the most influential people in British sport”.

Campbell’s priorities will be the encouragement of grassroots women’s football and the continued improvement of the England women’s teams.

The rugby Premiership final will be between reigning champions, Saracens, and Richmond.

There were contrasting semi-finals last weekend as Saracens had to fight hard to beat a tough Lichfield side 19-12 at Allianz Park.  The second semi-final saw Richmond take Worcester apart with a 35-0 win.

 The final, at the Twickenham Stoop, will be live on Sky Sports 5 on Sunday 17 January.  The programme begins at 17.25 and the game begins at 17.30.

 At the other end of the table, the relegation decider will be between Wasps and Aylesford.  This also takes place this weekend.

 Results and news in next week’s column.

Trina Gulliver duly triumphed in the BDO darts final last Saturday, to take her 10th title.  In an all-English final, she beat Deta Hedman 3-2.  It was yet another disappointment for Hedman, who lost her third Lakeside final.

It’s good to report on a bit of skiing and Lindsey Vonn is always worth a few words.  Vonn claimed her second win in two days this week at the Alpine Skiing World Cup event in Austria, when she won in the super-G.

 She had already won the downhill on Saturday, which equalled Annemarie Moser-Proll’s record of 36 World Cup downhill wins.

 Vonn is still some way short of the overall World Cup wins record, which belongs to Ingemar Stenmark with 86.  Vonn stands on 73.

Only two months after retiring from driving in Formula 1, Susie Wolff this week unveiled her new initiative to get more women into motorsport.

The new scheme, called Dare to be Different, aims to encourage women in motorsport but also to increase their confidence and knowledge in other areas, including the media, nutrition, fitness and diet.

According to Wolff it is not necessarily about finding the next female F1 driver, but to

“build an online community of women from all over the world.

“It will connect them through a shared passion and empower them to become the next wave of role models, while also providing access to some of the most successful female names in the sport.”

The women involved will also mentor each other and one outstanding candidate will earn a scholarship in karting.

 After Wolff’s somewhat discouraging experiences in this most male-dominated sport, it is good to see that she thinks progress can be made and even better that she thinks she is the one to take the lead.

The draw for the Australian Tennis Open has been made.  There are two British women in the draw with Johanna Konta up against it having drawn eighth seed Venus Williams in the first round.  Heather Watson will be more evenly matched as she comes up against Timea Babos of Hungary.  Watson is currently 53 in the world with Babos at 59.

Naomi Broady will not be in the draw, after having such a good run in Auckland a fortnight ago.  She was knocked out in the first round of qualifying, losing 6-3 2-6 6-3 to world number 166 Alize Lim.  According to ranking it was a match Broady, at 112 in the world, should have won.

And finally, at the risk of this beginning to turn into some sort of That’s Life misshaped carrot slot, I couldn’t resist this.  Is it an elaborate spoof?  I would like to think so, but I fear not.  Hilarity and outrage in equal measure (although I think outrage just about wins out….)

ladyball

The Ladyball. Yes, the Ladyball – see illustration above.  With tag lines like “Don’t break a nail, break boundaries” and “Play like the lady you are”, this Irish product is the most extraordinarily offensive thing I have seen in a while.  It is pink (of course), soft and smaller than the usual football and therefore “specially designed for the lady’s game”. It’s also advertised by scantily-clad “ladies” in 5-inch heels.  Not sure any sort of ball would be suitable for playing in them.  I’m still hoping someone will inform me that it’s a wind-up……

“Just” Get involved!

Just logoThere are great things happening in Market Harborough.  It’s the best time to be an active woman!

From 18th January, if you’re female and 14+ you  can sample all kinds of sports in the locality – free first session and £3 thereafter.

The sports on offer are: netball, football, hockey, squash, running, dance, badminton and roller hockey.  There’s something for everyone and not excuse not to take part.

There are rewards of wristbands, t-shirts and more for completing so many sessions.

For more information check out the Harborough sport website.

Follow them (or me) on Twitter:

@JustHarborough

or check out the Facebook page:

Active Harborough District

I’m hoping to blog on some of the activities and also take part in a few!  If you see me at a session, please come up and say hello.

Women’s Sports Column

Dartboard

2-8 January 2016

This week sees plenty of news from cricket, netball, tennis rugby union and….darts!

There’s good and bad in this week’s cricket news.  Let’s get the bad over with first.  Undeniably Chris Gayle was completely out of line in his propositioning of journalist Mel McLaughlin on live TV during the BBL coverage this week.  She was there to do a job and he had no respect for that whatsoever.  Anyone who thinks she should have been flattered, amused or in any way pleased that this took place has no idea what it’s like for a female to be reporting on sport.

Right, enough of that, let’s get on to the good stuff.  The England squad for their tour of South Africa was announced this week.  Sarah Taylor will be aiming to win her 100th ODI cap in the first match on 12 February.  The only slight surprise inclusion in the squad of 15 is Tammy Beaumont, who hasn’t played for England since 2014 and will take part in the T20s only.

It will be the first tour for new head coach, Mark Robinson and points from the three ODIs will go towards qualification for the 2017 ICC Women’s Championship.  Currently England sit fifth with South Africa fourth.

And more good news is that BBC Test Match Special will deliver full commentary on all of the matches!

This is the schedule:

7.2.16 1st ODI Sahara Willowmoore Park, Benoni
12.2.16 2nd ODI SuperSport Park, Centurion
14.2.16 3rd ODI Bidvest Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg
18.2.16 1st T20I Boland Park, Paarl
19.2.16 2nd T20I Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town
21.2.16 3rd T20I Bidvest Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg

As reported last week, the WBBL is thriving in its first year.  Audiences have been excellent, both at the grounds and on television (if only we had something to watch/listen to here….).  As it stands, Sydney Thunder are top after 10 games with 16 points, Hobart Hurricanes second on 14 having played a game more with Brisbane Heat on the same points in third having played 13 games.  Sydney Sixers currently bring up the rear with a mere four points, but they can still make up places as they have only played eight games.  More news next week!

Netball is continuing its resurgence in popularity as Sky announced January as its Netball Month.  The new Superleague starts on 30 January with the “Vitality Netball Superleague Super Saturday”, which will be held at the Genting Arena in Birmingham and televised live on Sky.  All eight Superleague teams will be in action.

Before this, however, England play a three test series against world champions Australia.  Again televised by Sky, the matches are at the Liverpool Echo Arena on 20 January, and the Copper Box in London on 22 and 24 January.

If you’ve not watched professional netball before, please take this opportunity to do so.  It’s fast, exciting and skilful.

After splitting with her coach, Diego Veronelli, last month, Heather Watson is currently being coached by Judy Murray.  Murray will be working with Watson up to and through the Australian Open later this month.  There is no indication whether the relationship will continue beyond this point though, so watch this space for more news.

British number three and world number 122, Naomi Broady, has had an excellent, if controversial week.  She won the best match of her career in the first round of the ASB Classic in Auckland, when she beat world number 16, Ana Ivanovic 7-5 6-4.  Then came the controversy.  She beat Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 7-6 7-5, but there was an angry exchange with her opponent when Ostapenko appeared to throw her racquet at a ball boy.  She claimed it was accidental but Broady was not convinced, and told both Ostapenko and the umpire as much.   Broady thought her opponent should have been disqualified and was clearly upset by the incident.  However, she showed her steel to win the third set and take the match, although the arguments continued at the end of match handshake at the net.  After a good two rounds, Broady was beaten in the third by American Sloane Stephens, 7-6 6-3.

More good news on the media coverage front – this time in rugby union.  Sky has announced that it will show the final of the English Women’s Premiership live.  The line-ups for the play-off semi-finals have been decided already with Richmond facing Worcester and Saracens taking on Lichfield.

The final kicks off at 5.30pm on Sunday 17 January.

More brownie points for Sky, but begs the question, what the heck is everyone else doing???

And finally, darts – yes, darts!  Not often I get to mention it and not often you get to see women’s darts covered anywhere, but the BDO championships at Frimley Green have reached the semi-final stage and the BBC are going a great job in covering the women’s event.

The semi-final line-up is:

Deta Hedman (Eng) v Ann-Louise Peters (Den)
Trina Gulliver (Eng) v Aileen De Graaf (Ned)

Long-time number one Gulliver beat current champion Lisa Ashton in the quarter-finals and is looking for her 10th title.  Peters hit the highest ever women’s checkout of 160 in her quarter-final win over Zoe Jones.  The semi-finals will be from 5.30pm on 8 January with the final at the weekend.  What else can I say, but quote the best darts commentator ever, Sid Waddell,

“There’s only one word for that – magic darts.”