Women’s Sports Column 12-18 January 2019

abstract-accuracy-accurate-262438Welcome to this week’s column.  Plenty to get through again this week with updates on some of last week’s stories, plus all the results and news from last weekend and the rest of the week.  This week we look at darts, tennis, boxing, football, cycling, ultra-running, netball, rugby union and cricket.

Let’s crack on.

Darts

I don’t know why I start with the darts this week, but I have been very much taken with Mikuru Suzuki’s darts journey, which culminated last weekend in her becoming the first non-European to win the Women’s BDO World Championships.

Suzuki beat Maria O’Brien of England 2-0 in the semi-final, while Winstanley saw off Anastasia Dobromyslova of Russia 2-1.

The unseeded Japanese player then proceeded to complete the biggest shock of the week as she beat top seed Lorraine Winstanley of England 3-0 to take the title.

Indeed, Winstanley took only two legs off Suzuki, who averaged 90.12 over the match.

Suzuki’s nickname is “The Miracle” and while I probably wouldn’t go that far, it was a very impressive, surprising win and she obviously has the potential to do much more.

Ultra-running

Jasmin Paris has become the first woman to win the Montane Spine Race.  The British ultra-runner completed the 268-mile competition in 83 hours 12 minutes and 23 seconds, beating the old course record by no less than 12 hours.

The race is run along the length of the Pennine Way from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders and is open to both male and female runners.  Two-thirds of it is run in darkness.

And if running 268 miles, in winter, mostly in darkness was not enough, Paris stopped at the aid stations along the way to express breast milk for her baby daughter, Rowan.

I can’t even begin to understand what this kind of endurance event must be like to compete in.  She has my complete admiration.  What an achievement.

Tennis

Sydney International

Petra Kvitova took the Sydney title, defeating Ash Barty in the final in three sets, 1-6 7-5 7-6.

Hobart International

Sofia Kenin of the USA claimed the title in Hobart, defeating Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia in straight sets, 6-3 6-0.

Australian Open

As usual, there were mixed fortunes for Britain’s women in the first round at Melbourne.

Harriet Dart crashed out badly, admitting that she let the situation and nerves get to her in her hard-earned first round tie against Maria Sharapova.  She had worked so hard to come through qualifying, but lost 6-0 6-0 against the Russian in one hour and two minutes.

In an interview with BBC Sport she said,

“I think nerves got the best of me but I tried my best and that’s all I could do.

“She hits a huge ball and it comes at you quick. She doesn’t give you anything so it was always going to be difficult.

“I’m glad to have these experiences and hopefully get more of big experiences on big stages.”

Katie Boulter, on the other hand, had a fine win in her first round match against 2015 semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova.  She won 6-0 4-6 7-6 (10-6).  For the first time this year there is a tie-break in the final set, but it is first to 10 points rather than seven. Boulter apparently forgot this and celebrated at 7-4, but managed to maintain her composure to take the match, hitting 53 winners in the process.

She couldn’t, however, repeat the performance in the second round and went out to 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets 6-3 6-4.  Although she played well, she was clearly frustrated with her performance.  In her post-match interview she said,

“I didn’t feel like I put my best game on the court.

“I’ve learnt so much just from playing matches on courts I haven’t played on before. I feel a lot more settled now,” she said.

Heather Watson suffered another disappointing first round exit, losing 6-1 6-2 to 32nd seed Petra Martic.  Cue many, many Watson-haters on the BBC website/Facebook/Twitter.  Watson certainly suffered in the heat (as have others, causing retirements) and has cited this as among the reasons for her loss, but she has also indicated that her mental attitude is also a problem and she lacks confidence and self-belief.

There is no doubt that Watson has talent, but has she fulfilled her potential?  Perhaps sessions with a sports psychologist may do the trick.  It would take a major miracle to silence the haters, but her first priority should be to herself.

Johanna Konta won her first round match after a difficult battle with Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.  She won a final set tie-break to take the match 7-6 2-6 7-6 (10-7.

However, she was undone in the second by 18th seed Garbine Muguruza in a spectacular match which lasted two hours 42 minutes.  Unfortunately, only 250 fans were left in the arena to see it as the match started after midnight and finished at 3.12am.  Fabulous scheduling by the tournament organisers.

The final score was 6-4 6-7 7-5 to Muguruza.  Konta will feel heartened that she played a brilliant match in difficult circumstances.  And another point to make – I know the women’s matches generally take less time to complete, but would the organisers have started another men’s match at nearly 12.30am if there had been one to play? I don’t think so.

Other highlights so far:

Jelena Ostapenko, seeded 22, lost in the first round to Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-1 3-6 6-2.

Danielle Collins of the USA is having quite a tournament.  Having disposed of 14th seed Julia Goerges in the first round, she then saw off 19th seed Caroline Garcia in the third round 6-3 6-2.

Home favourite Sam Stosur also went out in the first round, losing 7-5 6-2 to Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine.  Yastremska then put out 24th seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the second, 6-3 3-6 6-1.

Tenth seed Daria Kasastkina lost to the unseeded Timea Bacsinszky 6-3 6-0.

More seeds fell in the second round as we lost Donna Vekic (29), Lesia Tsurenko (24), Anett Kontaveit (20) and Kiki Bertens (9).

World number one and top seed Simona Halep survived a real scare, eventually winning her second round match 6-3 6-7 6-4 over Sofia Kenin of the USA.

We are now in the middle of the third round:

Maria Sharapova (30) beat defending champion Caroline Wozniacki (3) in the third round 6-4 4-6 6-3.

The unseeded Amanda Anisimova accounted for 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Football

Charlton v Manchester United

Hopeless FA Klaxon!  It had to happen.  The match between Manchester United and Charlton was abandoned on Sunday after Charlton player Charlotte Kerr was injured.

But why did they have to abandon the game?  Kerr was treated on the pitch for nearly an hour, but there was no ambulance on-site and one had to be called.  The ambulance did not arrive for 30 minutes and during that time the medical staff used up the available emergency oxygen.

As there is a legal requirement to have oxygen (but not an ambulance) at the game, the referee had to call it off.

The current rules state,

“Clubs shall ensure that emergency sports first aid equipment is present and in full working order at each Competition Match. Such equipment to include as a minimum a spinal board, cervical collar, fracture splints, crutches, stretchers, oxygen and a defibrillator.”

If there had been an ambulance present, Kerr would have been treated quicker, taken off to hospital quicker and the game could have continued.

The good news is that the sternum and rib injury was heavy bruising and Kerr has been released from hospital, but at the time it was not clear that it was just bruising.

Whatever the critics of women’s football say, this is elite sport.  This is the highest level in the country but the FA does not seem able to see its way to ensuring, as far as it is able, the safety of the players.  There have been reports this week that the FA is now considering introducing a new rule on ambulances.  Let’s hope that this is the case, before something more serious happens and we lose a player for want of an ambulance.

Transfers

As predicted last week, Marc Skinner has now left Birmingham City to take up the role as head coach of Orlando Pride.  He has side a 2.5 year deal.

West Ham United have been busy in the transfer market this week.  They signed Canadian forward Adriana Leon from Seattle Reign at the weekend.  Leon has 54 caps for Canada and has scored 12 goals.  Then at the beginning of the week they signed South Korean captain Cho So-hyun from Avaldsnes of Norway, an experienced midfielder with 120 caps.

FAWSL

Results from 13 January were as follows:

Yeovil 1-2 Liverpool
Donovan 52’
Sweetman-Kirk 27’ (Pen) 93’

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-0 Everton

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea
Miedema 80’
Cuthbert 26’ 63’

West Ham Utd 1-3 Manchester City
Ross 58’
Weir 15’, Hemp 39’, Parris 86’

Birmingham City 0-1 Bristol City
Evans 15’

Manchester City are now top of the table with 31 points from 13 games.  Arsenal are one point behind and have played one game fewer.  Chelsea are third on 28 from 13 games.  At the bottom, Yeovil have three points from 12 games with Everton above them on six points from twelve.

Championship

The Championship results from 13 January were:

London Bees 2-1 Crystal Palace
Wilkinson 6’, Pickett 24’
Georgiou 17’

Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Lewes
Naz 31’, Dean 52’, Schillaci 60’

Leicester City 3-2 Millwall Lionesses
Johnson 2’, Smith 35’ (Pen), Franklin-Fraiture 53’
Clarke 30’ 76’ (Pen)

Durham 2-2 Aston Villa
Robertson 21’, Salicki 75’
Hutton 22’, Welsh 45’

Charlton Athletic v Manchester United
Suspended

Tottenham are top with 30 points from 12 games.  Manchester United are second with 28 from 11, having had their game on Sunday postponed.  Charlton are third on 26 from 12.  At the bottom, Millwall have just two points from twelve.  Crystal Palace are above them with seven points from 13.

Continental Cup

The draw has been made for the semi-finals of the Continental Cup:

Tuesday 5 February
Arsenal v Manchester United

Wednesday 6 February
Chelsea v Manchester City

Cricket

WBBL

We now know the four teams who will take part in the WBBL semi-finals.  Sydney Sixers finished top of the pile with 20 points from 14 games.  Sydney Thunder finished second on 19 with Brisbane Heat third on 18 and Melbourne Renegades fourth on 15.

Saturday 19 January
First semi-final
Sydney Thunder v Brisbane Heat
(Drummoyne Oval, Sydney, UK start time 11.40pm)

Second semi-final
Sydney Sixers v Melbourne Renegades
(Drummoyne Oval, Sydney, UK start time 2.50am, Sunday morning)

UK coverage via BT Sport and BBC 5 Live Sports Extra radio.

The final is next Saturday, 26 January.

England tour of India

The schedule for England’s tour of India has (finally) been released.

There will be three ODIs played at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and three T20s to be played at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium, Guwahati.

The ODIs will each score two points towards the ICC Women’s Championship.

All UK times:
ODIs – 22, 25, 28 February, Mumbai, 3.30am
T20s – 4, 7, 9 March, Guwhati, 4.30am

Boxing

Nicola Adams will challenge for the WBO World Flyweight title on 8 March at the Royal Albert Hall.  She faces Arely Mucino of Mexico.

Mucino became world champion in February and her ten years as a professional boxer has seen her amass 27 wins, two draws and three defeats.

Rugby Union

Saturday’s Premier 15s results:
DMP Sharks 14-53 Loughborough Lightning
Saracens 31-28 Harlequins
Worcester Valkyries 7-27 Gloucester-Hartpury
Firwood Waterloo 0-14 Bristol Bears
Richmond 12-38 Wasps

All of the teams have played 14 games.  Saracens are top with 65 points.  They have opened up quite a gap now, with Harlequins second on 58.  Loughborough Lightning are third on 55.  At the bottom, Valkyries are marooned on just four points.  Above them are DMP Sharks on 13 and Firwood Waterloo on 14.

This weekend’s fixtures:
Loughborough Lightning v Firwood Waterloo (12pm, Loughborough University)
Wasps v DMP Sharks (2pm, Twyford Avenue Sports Ground)
Bristol Bears v Worcester Valkyries (2.30pm, Shaftsbury Park)
Gloucester-Hartpury v Saracens (4.30pm, Gillman’s Ground)
Harlequins v Richmond (5.30pm, The Stoop)

Netball

Quad Series

The first weekend of the Quad series saw two excellent games:

England 54-41 New Zealand
After a tight first half, England did the job in the second to stretch the lead and take the game away from the Silver Ferns.  At half-time the Roses had just a one point lead, 25-24.  By the end of the third quarter the lead was up to 10 points and the Roses kept up that momentum to take the win by 13.  Jo Harten scored 27/32 and Helen Housby 25/31.  For New Zealand, Solonaima Maria Folau shot 29/32 and Ameliaranne Ekanasio 12/13.

Australia 62-45 South Africa
Australia, having to cope with the loss of their captain, Caitlin Bassett, who is sidelined with a broken arm, made a slow start.  South Africa, in contrast, were quick out of the blocks and took an early lead.  They managed to maintain this good form until well into the second-half, but the Diamonds went into the break 27-25 up.  They then upped their game in the third quarter, taking control by the end of it and pushing their advantage to extend the gap to 17.  For Australia, Gretel Tippett shot 30/32 and Caitlin Thwaites 17/18.  South Africa’s main shooters, Lenize Potgieter and Ine-Marie Venter scored 35/40 and 7/9 respectively.

This weekend sees rounds two and three at the Copper Box in London.  There is TV coverage on Sky Sports and on BBC 5Live Sports Extra on the radio.

Vitality Netball Super League

Last weekend’s results:

Friday 11 January
Strathclyde Sirens 45-55 Team Bath

Saturday 12 January
Loughborough Lightning 52-44 Team Bath
Surrey Storm 39-59 Saracens Mavericks
London Pulse 40-67 Celtic Dragons

There are no fixtures this weekend as we concentrate on the Quad Series.  It’s early days of course, and most teams have only played two games.  Team Bath are on top with two from two.  Wasps and Thunder are next, although they have only played one game each and have one win.

Volleyball

The Women’s Super League is now entering into the second half of its season.  The league has split into top five and Bottom four.  Fixtures get underway again this weekend.  More news in a couple of weeks when I’m back.

Cycling

Former Team GB cyclist Jess Varnish has failed in her attempt to prove that she was an employee of both British Cycling and UK Sport at an employment tribunal.

This means she will, in effect, be unable to sue the bodies for wrongful dismissal and sex discrimination.

Varnish had claimed that British Cycling’s control over her made it an employer-employee relationship, but the governing body said it was more like a university grant situation.

There is no doubt that UK Sport will be heaving a huge sigh of relief at this decision, but it may yet have to review its processes and attitude to athlete welfare.

For more on this story see this excellent piece in Cycling Weekly.

And Finally,

First “And finally” of the year must go to Imke Wubbenhorst.  I know many of you will be asking “Who?” as I was, to be honest.  But she’s top of my pile this week for her fantastic response to yet another puerile question from a journalist.

Wubbenhorst is manager of BV Cloppenburg – a men’s fifth tier team in Germany.  She is the first woman to hold a managerial position at a men’s club at this level.

She was asked by a journalist whether she warned her players to make sure they put their pants on before she came into the changing room.

To which she replied,

“Of course not, I’m a professional; I pick my players based on their penis size.”

Love it.  No more need be said.

No column next week as I am out and about.

 

 

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Women’s Sports Column 5-11 January 2019

new tennisSo here it is – 2019!  I’d like to wish a Happy New Year to all my followers and, if I might be so bold, suggest that this is going to be a mammoth year for women’s sport.  I’m rather chuffed to say that my husband came up with the goods for my “big” birthday, giving me Netball World Cup tickets.  We have one session that should, all being equal, include an England Roses game.  So what with that, the football World Cup and Women’s Ashes coming up this summer, it’s going to be all systems go.

But there’s still plenty to get our teeth into this winter.  Stories for the first column of 2019 come from football, cricket, rugby union, netball, darts and tennis.

So for the first time this year, let’s crack on…

Tennis

After what seems a miniscule couple of weeks off, the WTA season has begun again with tournaments in the Far East and Australia, leading up the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, which begins on 14 January.  This week sees two tournaments in Australia:

Sydney International

It has been a bad week for British number one Jo Konta who was forced to withdraw from the Sydney International twice in two days.  She was working her way through qualifying when she had to retire in the second round with a neck injury.  She still went through to the main draw as a lucky loser and was due to Kiki Bertens in the first round, but withdrew again.

World number one Simona Halep fared no better as she was beaten in the second round after a first round bye, losing to Ash Barty 6-4 6-4.  It was Halep’s first competitive match in three months after she ended last season early with a back injury.

Quarter-finals
Petra Kvitova (5) beat Angelique Kerber (2) 6-4 6-1
Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat Timea Bacsinszky 6-3 6-3
Ash Barty beat Elise Mertens (10) 6-3 6-3
Kiki Bertens (7) beat Yulia Putintseva 6-2 6-2

Semi-finals
Ash Barty is into the final, having defeated Kiki Bertens 6-7 6-5 7-5.  Sasnovich v Kvitova is still to take place at time of publishing.

Hobart International

No better news for British number two Heather Watson as she crashed out of the Hobart International in the first round, losing in straight sets to Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, 6-1 6-4.

Quarter-finals
Sofia Kenin beat Kirsten Flipkens (7) 7-5 7-5
Alize Cornet (6) beat Greet Minnen 6-1 6-4
Belinda Bencic beat Dayana Yastremska 7-6 6-3
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova beat Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5 7-5

Semi-finals
Sofia Kenin beat Alize Cornet (6) 6-2 6-4
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova beat Belinda Bencic 7-6 4-6 6-2

The final is tomorrow, Saturday 12 January

Australian Open Qualifying

There are 16 spots up for grabs in Qualifying.  Of the British players, Naomi Broady lost in the first round, beaten by Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium 6-4 3-6 6-3.  Gabriella Taylor also departed in the first round, losing to Kirstie Ahn of USA 6-1 6-1.

But Harriet Dart is through to the first round proper of the Australian Open.  She beat her first qualifying round opponent, Chloe Paquet of France 6-3 4-6 6-2.  She then defeated Ivana Jorovic of Serbia 1-6 6-3 6-1.  No easy draw for Dart though.  She now faces Maria Sharapova in the first round.

There are four British women in the main draw as Jo Konta seems to have declared herself fit: Konta, Heather Watson, Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart.

Heather Watson faces 31st seed Petra Martic, Katie Boulter also has a tough one against Ekaterina Makarova (all Monday 14 January).  Jo Konta has an extra day to recover; her first match is on Tuesday against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.

Fed Cup

Great Britain have named a full-strength team for February’s matches in Bath.

The team, along with their world rankings, is Jo Konta (38th), Heather Watson (93rd). Katie Boulter (99th), Harriet Dart (132nd) and Katie Swan (181st).

It is the first time in 26 years that Great Britain has hosted a Fed Cup event.

The Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 event will comprise eight teams.  The teams will be in two groups of four, the draw for which is on 14 January.  The winners of each group will then play each other to determine who will go into the World Group II play-off, which takes place in April.

The event from 6-9 February is at the University of Bath.  Check out the ticket situation here.

Football

Racism Allegation

Tottenham Hotspur defender Renee Hector used social media to allege that she was the subject of racist abuse by a Sheffield United player during their game on Sunday 6 January.

She tweeted:

“Such a shame that racism seems to be rising up again in football.  I received some monkey noises from an opposition player. The only reaction was to let football do the talking.”

Sheffield United Women have made a statement that they:

“are aware of the post on social media and have already begun an investigation to determine the full facts”.

Hector also reported the incident to the referee during the game and Tottenham reported it to the Football Association.

There will be more on this as the situation progresses.

FA Cup Third Round Results:
Billericay Town 3-4 Loughborough Foxes
Coventry United 1-2 Crawley Wasps
Derby 1-2 Stoke
Huddersfield 4-1 Leeds
Hull City 0-3 AFC Wimbledon
Keynsham 2-1 Fylde
Middlesbrough 2-7 Watford
Cardiff 2-0 Bolton Wanderers
Nottingham Forest 0-1 MK Dons
Oxford United 1-2 Blackburn

FA Cup Fourth Round Draw

The FA Cup fourth-round draw has been made.  Crawley Wasps, AFC Wimbledon and Keynsham Town are the lowest ranked sides left in the competition – they all play in the fourth tier of women’s football.  This is the point at which the Super League and Championship teams make their first appearance:

Loughborough Foxes v Sheffield United
Charlton Athletic v Huddersfield Town
Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United
West Ham United v Blackburn Rovers
Stoke City v Aston Villa
Manchester City v Watford
Yeovil Town v Birmingham City
AFC Wimbledon v Bristol City
Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur
Millwall Lionesses v Lewes
Durham v Cardiff City
Everton v Chelsea
Crawley Wasps v Arsenal
Leicester City v London Bees
Reading v Keynsham Town
Liverpool v Milton Keynes Dons

Ties will be played on Sunday 3 February.

Continental Cup

We now know the semi-final line-up after the quarter-finals were completed this week.

Manchester City 7-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Parris 6’, Hemp 23’ 86’, Weir 59’, Emslie 88’, Stanway 90’, Beckie 92’
Buet 9’

Manchester Utd 2-0 West Ham Utd
Sigsworth 17’ 53’

Arsenal 2-1 Birmingham City
Van de Donk 83’, Miedema 90’
Quinn 61’

Chelsea 4-0 Reading
Kirby 3’ 86’, Asante 37’, Riley 90+1

WSL

Sunday 6 January
Bristol City 1-1 Manchester City
Graham 62’ (pen)
Parris 36’

Chelsea 3-0 Everton
England 6’, Spence 60’, Blundell 69’

Liverpool 0-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
Rafferty 34’, Umotong 49’

Birmingham City 2-1 Reading
Harrop 72’, Sargeant 89’
Hampton 88’ (OG)

West Ham Utd 2-4 Arsenal
Ross 11’, 43’
Williamson 26’, Arnth-Jensen 31’, van de Donk 59’ 65’

Arsenal are top with 30 points from 11 games.  Manchester City are second, two points behind and having played a game more.  Chelsea are third on 25 points from 12 games.  At the bottom, Yeovil have three points from 11 games and above them are Everton with 5 points from 11.

Championship

Sunday 6 January
Sheffield Utd 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Schillaci 6’ (OG)
Dean 5’, Wiltshire 51’

Leicester City 4-0 Lewes
M Johnson 41’, Worts 50’ 55’, L Johnson 89’

Manchester Utd 9-0 London Bees
Devlin 2’ 57’, Toone 28’ 66’, Arnott 39’, Green 40’, James 68’ 73’, Zelem 80’ (Pen)

Crystal Palace 3-1 Millwall
Burr 6’, Mackenzie 52’, Bryan 63’
Ravenscroft 53’

Charlton Athletic 2-2 Durham
Bailes 20’, Gurr 85’
Ness 42’ 45’

With their thumping win over the Bees, Manchester United are top by one point.   They have 28 points from 11 games.  Just behind them are Tottenham with 27 from 11 and Charlton Athletic are third on 26 from 12. At the bottom, Millwall Lionesses have just two points from 11 games and Crystal Palace have seven from 12.

Transfers

The transfer window is upon us.  Pick of the transfers so far:

Ann-Katrin Berger has signed for Chelsea from Birmingham on a contract which takes her up to 2022.  Best bit of transfer business so far?  Probably.  Don’t forget Berger was still battling with thyroid cancer in November 2017.  Her comeback has been nothing short of stunning and she is bound to be a real asset to Chelsea.

Danish winger Katrine Veje has signed for Arsenal from Montpellier. Veje has already won more than 100 caps for Denmark.

Jade Bailey has signed for Reading from Chelsea on loan until the end of the current season.

Scottish forward Abbi Grant has left Glasgow City to play for Anderlecht.  Her aim is to make the Scotland World Cup squad and she believes the only way to do that was to leave Glasgow.  So far she has just one cap.

I’m not one to repeat gossip (often), but rumour has it that Birmingham City head coach Marc Skinner has been approached by Orlando Pride with respect to joining them as their head coach.  No confirmation or denial on either website, but just what I’ve heard from fans’ forums.  If it does turn out to be true, this will be a massive loss for Birmingham.  More news when I get it.

Finally, can I add my congratulations to Annie Zaidi, who has been named as the new Solihull Moors Ladies coach.  I have met Annie on several occasions and she is a brilliant example to any woman wanting to become a football (or any sports) coach.  In addition to the new role she will continue as the Under 16s boys.  If you don’t know her story, check it out here.

Netball – off the Court

When are Benecos Mavericks not Benecos Mavericks?  When they’re Saracens Mavericks, of course!

Having just got used to calling them Benecos Mavericks, as opposed to Hertfordshire Mavericks, they’ve gone and changed their names again.  With good reason.  Saracens Rugby Club have bought a 50% stake in the Mavericks.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Kathryn Ratnapala, Mavericks’ Director of Netball said,

“This has been a fantastic opportunity to join forces with Saracens and continue to push to be the standout, ultimate franchise within Vitality Superleague.”

“Saracens have proved to be role models and leaders in their field and merging with this high-performance culture and club is a great step forward for Mavericks.

“We would like to thank Benecos for their support for the last two years as we continue to work with them as our title sponsor this season.”

Tim Hunt, who oversees the commercial operation at Saracens said,

“Netball is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and we are excited to be joining forces with Mavericks. Part of our growth strategy is to collaborate with others that share our ethos and help widen our audience reach.”

“To achieve this, the dual-priority is to create an environment where our elite teams continually strive for sporting excellence and to inspire our local communities to lead healthier, happier lives through the positive power of sport. Mavericks mirror our culture making them a perfect match for Saracens.”

Seriously, it is great to see another sport realise the potential that surrounds netball.  I hope it’s a beneficial relationship for both clubs.

Netball – on the Court

The Vitality Netball Super League 2019 is underway in this huge year for netball!

Last weekend saw the Super 10 opening extravaganza at the Birmingham Arena.  All ten Super League teams were in action over the course of the day.  The scores were as follows:

Celtic Dragons 41-58 Team Bath
Wasps Netball 72-42 Loughborough Lightning
Severn Stars 49-51 London Pulse
Strathclyde Sirens 56-38 Surrey Storm
Manchester Thunder 58-61 Saracens Mavericks

The second round is this weekend and then there is a break for the Quad Series.

11 January
Strathclyde Sirens v Team Bath (7.30pm) (Live on Sky)

12 January
Loughborough Lightning v Severn Stars (6pm)
Surrey Storm v Saracens Mavericks (6pm)
London Pulse v Celtic Dragons (7pm)

Quad Series aka Vitality International Series

The latest Quad series takes place in Liverpool and London between 13-20 January.

Sunday 13 January (Liverpool)
South Africa v Australia (3.15pm)
England v New Zealand (5.30pm)

Saturday 19 January (London)
Australia v New Zealand (4.15pm)
England v south Africa (6.30pm)

Sunday 20 January (London)
South Africa v New Zealand (3.15pm)
England v Australia (6pm)

All games live on Sky Sports

England have already named a 12-strong squad. There is no place for captain Ama Agbeze as she is still recovering from injury.

Roses squad: Helen Housby, Chelsea Pitman, Geva Mentor, Jo Harten, Jade Clarke, Eboni Usoro-Brown, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Serena Guthrie, Layla Guscoth, Rachel Dunn, Razia Quashie, Fran Williams

Darts

We are at the semi-final stage of the BDO Darts Professional Ladies Championships at Lakeside.

The semi-finals take place today, Friday 11 January.

Lorraine Winstanley of England takes on doubles partner Anastasia Dobromyslova of Russia while Mikuru Suzuki of Japan faces Maria O’Brien of England.

More news next week.

Cricket

WBBL

With just one round of matches to go, Sydney Thunder are still on top with 19 points (nine wins).  Both they and the Hurricanes have played 13 matches, one more than everyone else.  Just behind them, on 18 points and also with nine wins are Sydney Sixers.

The other two finals day qualifying places are currently held by Brisbane Heat on 14 points and Melbourne Renegades on 13.  At the bottom, the luckless Hobart Hurricanes still have only two wins from 13 and are on four points.  Perth Scorchers are currently in fifth, just one point behind fourth place.

The two standouts over the past couple of weeks have both involved New Zealand all-rounder Sophie Devine.  Her display with both bat and ball for the Adelaide Strikers on 23 December against the Melbourne Stars led them to a fine win and she was at it again as the Strikers triumphed in a Super Over win over the unlucky Hobart Hurricanes on 8 January.

Sophie Devine

Devine became the first WBBL player to hit a half-century and take five wickets in a match.  She hit 95 off 66 balls (5 sixes, 8 fours) for the Strikers and was out in the penultimate over as they posted a total of 172/3.  She then took the wickets of Lizelle Lee, Angela Reakes, Erin Osborne, Georgia Elwiss and Nicola Hancock as the Stars fell 19 runs short in their chase.

On 8 January, the Strikers posted 189/5 with Devine scoring 99 not out from 53 balls, an innings that included 10 fours and four sixes.  Tahlia McGrath also made 63.  In chasing 190, the Hurricanes always looked to be up against it.  Smriti Mandhana made 52 at the top of the order, but she lost three partners in quick succession.  The lower order took it on though and the Hurricanes managed to end on 189/8, which took it to a Super Over.

The Hurricanes could only post 12/1 from their one over, hampered by the wicket of Mandhana second ball.  The Strikers, needless to say in the form of Devine, hit six, six, four to win the game and end as player of the match yet again.

Rugby Union

England Roses
I know I’m a bit late to this, but I think it bears repeating: the RFU have awarded 28 full-time 15s contracts.  There are also seven EPS agreements where players will take part in camps and England training, but not the full-time programme.

England Women Elite Player Squad 2019

Forwards
Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC), Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies), Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears Women), Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women), Jo Brown (Loughborough Lightning), Rowena Burnfield (Richmond FC)*, Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Ladies), Bryony Cleall (Saracens Women)*, Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women), Amy Cokayne (Wasps FC Ladies)*, Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Ladies), Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women), Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning), Justine Lucas (Loughborough Lightning), Cath O’ Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), Marlie Packer (Saracens Women), Ellena Perry (Saracens Women)*, Abbie Scott (Harlequins Ladies)

Backs
Jess Breach (Harlequins Ladies), Rachael Burford (Harlequins Ladies), Katy Daley-Mclean (Loughborough Lightning), Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies)*, Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women), Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC), Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC), Claudia Macdonald (Wasps FC Ladies)*, Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women), Leanne Riley (Harlequins Ladies), Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), Emily Scott (Harlequins Ladies)*, Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC), Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries), Lagi Tuima (Bristol Bears Women), Carys Williams (Loughborough Lightning)

* EPS agreement

It is great news and shows England Rugby’s commitment to women’s and girls’ rugby.

Premier 15s

Premier 15s rugby is back this weekend.  The fixtures are as follows:

12 January
Firwood Waterloo v Bristol Bears (1pm, Firwood Waterloo Rugby Club)
Worcester Valkyries v Gloucester-Hartpury (2pm, Sixways Stadium)
Richmond v Wasps (3pm, Richmond Athletic Ground)
Saracens v Harlequins (3.45pm, Allianz Park)
DMP Sharks v Loughborough Lightning (5pm, Northern Echo Arena)

Get out there and support them if you can.

That’s all for this week.  More news and views next week.