Women’s Sports Column

stumps26-12 February (with a bit of the week before)

Lots to catch up on this week so I’ll crack on. Stories from tennis, rugby union, judo, rowing, speed skating, netball and cricket.

Although the week before last passed me by in a blur, I did have time to digest the final of the Australian Open tennis. Serena Williams was odds-on favourite, but didn’t count on the sheer dogged fighting ability of seventh seed, Angelique Kerber. She took the match 6-4 3-6 6-4. It was only Williams’ fifth defeat in 26 Grand Slam finals.

The first round of Six Nations fixtures took place last weekend.

England made a good start with an impressive 32-0 win over Scotland in Cumbernauld. They scored five tries from Cattell, Millar-Mills (2), Hunter and Demaine. Other points came from conversions by Reed and Cattell and one penalty from Reed. Harriet Millar-Mills took player of the match but Scotland can take heart from the fact they showed significant improvement on recent performances, particularly in defence.

On Saturday Ireland beat Wales 21-3. Ireland started well with tries from Naoupu and Spence with the only response a penalty from Wilkins. It was a much tighter affair in the second half but Ireland rarely looked troubled. They managed to put over two more penalties, but, for all their pressure, couldn’t add to their tally of tries.

In the third game of the weekend, tournament favourites France also made an impressive start, defeating Italy 39-0. France were still smarting from the defeat they suffered at the Italians’ hands in 2015 – a defeat that cost them the Grand Slam and clearly revenge was on their minds. A record crowd of 6,771 saw France dominate from the off, especially in the first half. Billes scored the first try and Forlani the second and by the time the third try was scored by Mignot, only 23 minutes had gone and so had the game for Italy. France went in 20-0 up at half time and hungry for more. A penalty try, another from Forlani and a sixth for Poublan wrapped up the game for Les Bleues – is there anyone who can stop them from taking the title this year?

This weekend’s second round sees Ireland up against France in Perpignon and Italy against England in Ivrea on Saturday 13 and Wales v Scotland in Neath on Sunday 14.

In other rugby news, and an exciting development for Welsh rugby, Sian Williams has become Wales’ first ever professional female rugby player. The 25-year old flanker has been working for the Royal Air Force and travelling from Oxford to Cardiff to train with the Welsh side.

“I would spend around 12 hours a week in the car, travelling back and forth, so it was difficult to get a good balance between work and rugby. That will not happen anymore – that time can be spent training,” she told the BBC.

“So it is a dream come true to be Wales’ first female rugby player with elite athlete status. Hopefully this is just the start and more women will become full-time too.

“People are going to look at me and say ‘you’re full-time’, so there is a little bit of pressure, but I like pressure. It is really exciting and I have got to make sure I push myself forward and make the most of the opportunity.

The 2016 Vitality Netball Superleague got underway on 30 January with its Super Saturday event at the Genting Arena in Birmingham. All eight teams took part and the results were:

Celtic Dragons                                   39-60     Hertfordshire Mavericks

Yorkshire Jets                                    34-65     Loughborough Lightning

Manchester Thunder                     59-37     Team Northumbria

Team Bath                                          47-44     Surrey Storm

It was a fabulous occasion and brilliantly broadcast by SkySports as part of their “Netball Month”. The second week of fixtures took place last week:

Yorkshire Jets                                    38-58     Team Bath

Surrey Storm                                     57-35     Team Northumbria

Hertfordshire Mavericks               48-44     Loughborough Lightning

Team Northumbria                         45-62     Hertfordshire Mavericks

Most of the games are covered on Sky and well worth tuning into if you are able.

Loughborough Lightning suffered a blow this week when one of their stars, Sasha Corbin, was ruled out for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, sustained in only the second game of the season.

In judo, Sally Conway (-70kg) and Natalie Powell (-78kg) won Britain’s first medals at the Paris Grand Slam since 2008. They won Bronze in their respective categories on 8 February. Powell met teammate Gemma Gibbons in the bronze medal match, which Powell won three shidos to one. Conway’s tournament was altogether more complicated. After losing the quarter-final, her repechage opponent, world number one Kim Polling, withdrew through injury. Then, even stranger, her semi-final opponent, Estelle Fanny Posvite, was disqualified before the bout and, as you may have seen in the media, Conway was left bowing to an empty mat!

Bad news from rowing as Olympic gold medallist Anna Watkins has withdrawn from the team training for the Rio games. Watkins had recently returned to training after a three-year break, but after having tests this week, Watkins has announced that she doesn’t feel she is at the necessary level to compete.

Scottish Short track speed skater Elise Christie won gold in the 1500m at the Dresden World Cup this week. She finished in two minutes 41 seconds, 20 seconds ahead of Choi Min-jeong and Alang Kim, both of South Korea. Christie is in fine form, having won the overall European Championships short track title in January. Christie has to be one of the most under-valued (amongst many, admittedly) sportswomen in Britain. She consistently performs at the highest level, but largely goes unnoticed. If you get the chance to check her out, please take it – it’s a good watch.

In cricket England started their tour of South Africa with a win in their first ODI on Sunday 7 February. It was a rain-hit match, and this unfortunately sucked the life out it, but England showed good signs in both batting and bowling. The fielding will need to be sharper as two relatively straightforward catches went down – could be more costly against better opposition. South Africa are ever-improving and the rest of the series will be competitive, weather permitting.

The stats:

England 150 for 3 (Taylor 41*) beat South Africa 196 (Chetty 90, Shrubsole 4-29) by seven wickets (DLS method)

Player of the match was the excellent Anya Shrubsole. For a more in-depth match report please read my piece for Women’s Sports UK.

The next match at SuperSport Park, Centurion on Friday 12 and will be on TMS and online, with the third on Sunday 14 at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. The second ODI will also be Sarah Taylor’s 100th.

More good news for the England cricket team as Natalie Sciver has recovered sufficiently from an ankle injury to be selected for the T20 squad to play South Africa next week. The series of three begins on 18 with the other two following on quickly on 19 and 21 February in Paarl, Cape Town and Johannesburg respectively. All will be broadcast on Test Match Special and Sky, with the latter two as double-headers with the men’s side.

And finally, (yes it’s back), I am happy to announce that I am now Chief Cricket Correspondent for http://www.womenssportsuk.com/. I have been writing for the site for a while, but I’m really pleased to be joining the team on a more involved basis. So, if I may be so bold, please keep an eye on that fabulous site – it’s got everything you need to know about women’s sport. I’ll still be posting on my blog, though so don’t give up on it – you can read both!

 

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