Women’s Sports Column 6-12 October 2018

boxing_gloves-2Welcome to this week’s column. Hopefully a bit shorter (and sweeter) this week.  Lots of positive news around, which we all like to see. Stories this week come from boxing, football, rugby union, rugby league, tennis, netball, hockey, cricket, winter sports and motor racing.

So let’s crack on.

Boxing

Nicola Adams’ next bout could be a shot at the WBO world flyweight title.  On Saturday she beat Isabel Millan of Mexico on points (unanimous) at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.

She is now five from five since turning professional in 2017.

It was a test for Adams – the first time she had been taken beyond four rounds.  Two judges scored it 97-93 and one 96-94.

Her promoter, Frank Warren, is keen to see Adams get a shot at the title.  It could be as soon as December and he is eyeing up the undercard of the Josh Warrington v Carl Frampton fight, which takes place at the Manchester Arena on the 22nd.

The current champion is Arely Mucino of Mexico, who has been professional since 2008.  She has won 16 of her 20 bouts, nine within the distance.

Tennis

China Open

Second seed Caroline Wozniacki took the China Open title with a straight sets win over Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-3.

Wozniacki beat home favourite Wang Qiang 6-1 6-3 in the semi-final, while Sevastova defeated US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-4 6-4.

The doubles final was an altogether closer affair, eventually won in three sets by second seeds Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova 4-6 6-4 10-8 over third seeds Xu Yifan and Gabriela Dabrowski.

This week sees tournaments in both Hong Kong and Tianjin.

Hong Kong Open

Naomi Osaka withdrew before the tournament started with a back injury.

Third seed Jelena Ostapenko suffered a shock exit in the round of 32, 5-7 3-6 2-6 to the unseeded Kristina Kucova of Slovakia.

At time of publication we are at the quarter-final stage; two have been completed and two are yet to take place:

Zhang Shuai beat Daria Gavrilova (7) 6-1 6-3
Dayana Yastremka beat Kristina Kucova 7-6 6-2
Garbine Muguruza (4) v Luksika Kumkhum
Elina Svitolina (1) v Wang Qiang (6)

Tianjin Open

Meanwhile in Tianjin Britain’s Katie Boulter has had a storming week.  She reached the quarter-finals of the Tinajin Open, eventually falling to world number six, Karolina Pliskova 5-7 6-0 6-3.

After taking the tight first set, Pliskova asserted her authority in the second, taking it 6-0.  But Boulter rallied in the third and was 2-0 up before Pliskova re-asserted herself and took the set and the match.

Quarter-finals:

Caroline Garcia (2) beat Petra Martic (6) 6-2 1-0 (Martic retired with an injury)
Aryna Sabalenka (4) beat Timea Bacsinsczky 7-6 7-6
Karlina Pliskova (1) beat Katie Boulter 5-7 6-0 6-3

Pliskova meets Bacsinsczky in the semi-final

Still to play:

Hsieh Su-wei (5) v Elise Mertens (3)

Tennis – off the Court

British number one Jo Konta has split with her coach Michael Joyce after less than a year.  She has struggled this year, particularly in the Grand Slams and has slipped to 45 in the world.

There is clearly something wrong in Konta’s world and it is not my job to speculate in this column.  Her rise over the last couple of seasons has been wonderful to watch and I really hope that she finds a coach who will restore the self-confidence she really should have, but shows so little.

More news as it happens.

Football

The shortlist for the first Women’s Ballon d’Or award has been announced.  There are two English players, Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby, on the list.

It’s a lot more representative of the current state of things than the Best Fifa Awards that took place last month.

Shortlist:
Lucy Bronze (Lyon and England)
Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg and Denmark)
Ada Hegerberg (Lyon and Norway)
Amandine Henry (Lyon and France)
Lindsey Horan (Portland and USA)
Sam Kerr (Chicago and Australia)
Fran Kirby (Chelsea and England)
Saki Kumagai (Lyon and Japan)
Dzenifer Marozsan (Lyon and Germany)
Amel Majri (Lyon and France)
Marta (Orlando and Brazil)
Lieke Martens (Barcelona and Netherlands)
Megan Rapinoe (Seattle and USA)
Wendie Renard (Lyon and France)
Christine Sinclair (Portland and Canada)

Lionesses

There were two somewhat contrasting friendlies for the Lionesses this week.  The first, a dull affair played in rotten conditions against Brazil and the second, a much tighter effort enlivened by some incomprehensible refereeing decisions.

England 1-0

Brazil were clearly uncomfortable in the driving rain and wind at Meadow Lane.  England used it to their advantage and scored after just two minutes, an exquisitely placed header from Fran Kirby.

Nikita Parris caused mayhem down the wing, but was, perhaps, guilty of shooting selfishly on occasion when a cross or pass would have done a better job.

Marta went off with an injury in the first-half which didn’t help their cause.

England had several chances to increase their lead, but were profligate in front of goal.  But their attacking style was pleasing to the eye (23 shots, 8 on target), even if the quality of the end product was frustrating.

Brazil had a ten-minute period towards the end of the second-half when they seemed to finally come alive, but it would have been most unjust if they had scored the equaliser.

In the end England held out and were on the front foot at the final whistle.  It was a good performance under the circumstances, even though the opposition were disappointing.

England 1-1 Australia

The Matildas, by contrast, were up for the fight from the off.  And although the Lionesses were not made to pay for their carelessness in front of goal by Brazil, the Australians were not so forgiving,

Fran Kirby was on target again as England took the lead midway through the first-half.  Lucy Staniforth had a goal disallowed as she was (wrongly) adjudged offside.

But it was the two penalties turned down by the referee that had both Head Coach Phil Neville and the rest us scratching our heads.

Both Beth Mead and Nikita Parris were clearly brought down in the box with neither penalty being given.

Even so, England had plenty of chances to score again, particularly through Mead, but the Matildas kept on with a tenacity that we didn’t see from Brazil and were impressive on the break.

Six minutes from the end, Australia equalised as Clare Polkinghorne headed in from a corner.

World Cup Play-offs

The last European place for next year’s World Cup in France will go to either European Champions Netherlands or Switzerland.

First leg – 5 October:

Netherlands 2-0 Denmark
Beerensteyn 21’, Van de Sanden 42’

Belgium 2-2 Switzerland
Cayman 5’, De Neve 60’
Lehmann 55’, 87’

Second leg – 9 October

Denmark 1-2 Netherlands
Nadim 5’ (Pen)
Beerensteyn 7’ 90+2’

Switzerland 1-1 Belgium
Reuteler 23’
De Caigny 77’

So, Netherlands win 4-1 on aggregate and although the other tie finished 3-3, Switzerland go through on away goals.

The final is also a two-legged affair.  The first leg is on 5 November and the second on 13 November.  Netherlands are at home in the first leg.

Doncaster Rovers Belles

Breaking news is that Doncaster Rovers Belles are in talks with Club Doncaster about a possible takeover.

Club Doncaster runs Doncaster Rovers men’s side, the rugby league side and several projects in the community.

Belles Chair, Faye Lygo told the BBC,

“We believe matters are moving forward positively,” Lygo told BBC Sport.

“We have had to take measures to stabilise the club at a time of change in the women’s game and believe the future of the Belles lies in Doncaster, with the Rovers.”

Let’s hope that the discussions go well as a fully integrated club will hopefully ensure the Belles’ survival and progress.

Rugby League

Woman of Steel

Georgia Roche of Castleford is the Rugby Football League’s first ever Woman of Steel.

Roche, who is just 17, is part of the Castleford team that got to the Challenge Cup final this year and the Super League play-off semi-finals.

Talking of which….

Super League Play-offs

Leeds 24-10 Castleford Tigers

The first-half was a tight affair with Castleford going in 6-0 up at the break.  But Rhiannon Marshall, player of the match, had other ideas.  She went in for a try and set up two more for Chloe Kerrigan and Frankie Townend.  Charlotte Booth scored a fourth.  Suze Hill added another and Castleford could only come back with a consolation try from Kelsey Gentles.  Courtney Hill hit a penalty to round off the scoring and see Leeds safely through.

Wigan Warriors 10-6 St Helens

Wigan led 10-2 at half-time.  St Helens took the lead through a Faye Gaskin penalty, but Wigan hit back through tries from Alison Burrows and Rachel Thompson with Michelle Davis converting the latter.

The second-half was intense as both sides tried to make the decisive breakthrough.  In the end, the only score was a try from Saints’ Katie-May Williams with just four minutes to go.  It made for an exciting end, but Wigan managed to hold out to get through to the final.

So it will be Leeds v Wigan in the Super League Grand Final which takes place this Saturday, 13 October at the Manchester Regional Arena.  1pm kick-off.  Admission is £5 with under-16s getting in for free.

Rugby Union – Off the Pitch

Liza Burgess

Liza Burgess has become the 142nd member (and first Welsh woman) to be inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame.

She won 93 caps for Wales and Great Britain, captaining Wales 62 times.  She also played in four World Cups and

Domestically, she started at Loughborough University and Wasps and then co-founded Saracens in 1989, spending ten years at the club.

She ended her playing career at Clifton (now Bristol) and played her last game for Wales in the 2007 Six Nations against England at the age of 42.

Since her on-field retirement, she has coached extensively both domestically and with the Welsh national side and was Giselle Mather’s assistant coach of the inaugural Women’s Barbarians team in 2017.

Rugby Union – On the Pitch

The Premier 15s are back in action this weekend:

13 October
Firwood Waterloo v Gloucester-Hartpury (12.30pm, Firwood Waterloo Rugby Club)
Worcester Valkyries v Harlequins (2pm, Sixways Stadiium)
Loughborough v Bristol Bears (3pm, Loughborough University)
Saracens v Wasps (3.45pm, Allianz Park)
DMP Sharks v Richmond (5pm, Northern Echo Arena)

Hockey

Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division

Results from 6 October were as follows:

Clifton Robinsons 1-3 Holcombe
University of Birmingham 2-2 Buckingham
Bowdon 1-1 Beeston
East Grinstead 1-1 Surbiton
Canterbury 1-1 Slough

Surbiton dropped their first points of the season in their draw with East Grinstead.  Holcombe were the beneficiaries as they beat Clifton Robinsons to go level with Surbiton at the top of the table.  Both lie on seven points, with Surbiton top on goal difference.  University of Birmingham are third on five points.  At the bottom Slough gained their first point of the season, but are still at the foot of the table, with Bowdon second from bottom on two points.

This weekend’s fixtures:

13 October
Buckingham v Bowdon (12 noon, Stowe School, P1)
Slough v East Grinstead (12.30pm, Slough HC)
Surbiton v University of Birmingham (1pm, Surbiton HC)
Beeston v Clifton Robinsons (2pm, Nottingham Hockey, P1)
Holcombe v Canterbury (6pm. Holcombe HC, P1)

Netball

This Saturday sees the second Fast5 All-Stars tournament at the Copper Box Arena in London.

Loughborough Lightning are the defending champions.  The eight teams taking part are Lightning, Surrey Storm, Team Bath, Wasps Netball, Manchester Thunder, Strathclyde Sirens, Severn Stars and benecosMavericks.

It will be a fast and furious five-hour session.  All eight teams play in a double elimination format; two wins and a team goes through to the semi finals.  Two losses and you’re out.  Teams winning one and losing one of their opening matches will play a deciding match for a place in the semis.

Matches are 12 minutes long.  There is a five-point line and a two-minute Power Play where points count double.

It’s the netball equivalent of T20 (not commenting either way).  But it will be fun, so if you’re in the vicinity of the Copper Box on Saturday, check it out – the tournament starts at 1pm and goes on until 6pm.   It is also live on Sky.

The winning team takes away £25k, so it’s not to be sniffed at.

One player who will be there – and it’s probably worth going just to see her – is Sharni Layton.  Somehow I missed the startling fact that Layton, who retired from international netball earlier on this year, will be one of the “All Stars” playing for Surrey Storm.  Layton (and I don’t doubt it for a moment) has also indicated that she will play AFLW for Collingwood in the new season. Top of Form

Cricket

No cricket reports this week, but just to let you know that Australia will playing a three-match ODI series against Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur in the coming weeks.  The dates are 18, 20 and 22 October and I will have news and reports on their completion.

Winter Sports

Lindsey Vonn has announced she will retire at the end of the upcoming season.

She currently has 82 World Cup victories and is still aiming to break Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86.

There is no doubt that the sport has taken a physical toll on her and it is mainly for this reason that she has decided that this season will be her last:

“Physically, I’ve gotten to the point where it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

“I really would like to be active when I’m older, so I have to look to the future and not just be so focused on what’s in front of me.”

And Finally – motor racing W Series

Is it a chance to “show what women are really capable of” (Catherine Bond-Muir, Chief Executive of the new W Series) or is it “a sad day for motorsport” and an “historic step backwards (Pippa Mann, British IndyCar driver)?  Is it “an important means to an end – a stepping stone for female drivers” (Alice Powell, sportscar driver) or is it “founded on segregation” (Charlie Martin, racing driver)?

The news that there is to be a new women-only motor racing competition, the “W Series”, has certainly divided opinion.  It is backed by some big names, both male and female, including former F1 driver David Coulthard, former Williams test driver Susie Wolff and Red Bull chief designer Adrian Newey.

It’s a tricky one and I can see both sides.  What we want to avoid is creating yet another opportunity for men to cry “inferior sport” when actually, the premise is that motor racing is a sport in which men and women can compete alongside each other.

There will be up to 20 drivers competing for a prize fund of $1.5m.  There will be six races around Europe, including one in the UK.   The cars will be identical and will be run by the W Series.

Competitors will be chosen by assessment of their capabilities.

So why do we need a women-only competition?  Newey states that brute strength is not a factor in the success of racing drivers and so, he says,

“That being the case, I believe the reason why so few women have so far raced successfully at the highest levels against men is a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability.”

And surely that’s the issue.  It was the issue when all-women shortlists for parliamentary seats were introduced, and it’s the issue now.  I was a long-time opponent of so-called “positive discrimination” and of all-women shortlists.  But I came to see that they are a means to an end.  We want women in all areas of life to have equality of opportunity.  But it doesn’t happen.

It’s slightly different in motorsport as there is the karting route to come through.  But are women getting the opportunity in karting?   If, by the introduction of the W series, seeing women in motorsport becomes the norm, then hopefully the competition will do itself out of a job.  But until that happens, let’s give them the chance to compete and provide them with a different possible route into major motorsport and formula 1.

I’m against “ghettoising” women’s sport, but I’m all for extending opportunity, particularly in sports where, traditionally, the opportunities have been few.  Let me know what you think.

More news and views next week.      

Women’s Sports Column 19-25 August 2017

golfWelcome to this week’s column.  I went to see a poor Loughborough Lightning well beaten by Yorkshire Diamonds at Loughborough last Friday.   I thought our rain curse was going to pan out yet again as we sat in the car listening to and watching the hail come down.  But we did get a game – 13 per side and actually Loughborough would probably have preferred it to hose down as it was the only way they were ever going to get a point.  Hey ho.  Onward.

Stories this week come from rugby, golf, badminton, cycling, football, snooker, cricket, hockey and tennis.  I’m also happy to say this week’s “And Finally” is a good story.

Badminton

The Badminton World Championships are taking place in Glasgow this week.  Britain’s Gabby and Chris Adcock are through to the quarter-finals.  They went through to the last 16 of the missed doubles by beating French pair Bastian Kersaudy and Lea Palermo, 21-10 21-13.

The fifth seeds played the 11th seeds, Kenta Kazuno and Ayane Kurihara from Japan in the next round, winning 21-15 21-16.

In the quarter-finals they face Tse Ying Suet and Tang Chun Man of Hong Kong on Friday 25 August.

Kirsty Gilmour, Britain’s best women’s singles hope is also through to the quarter-finals after beating He Bingjiao of China 21-14 15-21 21-16.  She plays Saina Nehwal of India in the next round.

Rugby

Women’s Rugby World Cup

The final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup will be between New Zealand and current holders, England.

Two contrasting semi-finals on Tuesday 22 August saw New Zealand pull away from a tiring USA to win comfortably, while England had to fight to the hooter to see off France.

New Zealand 45-12 USA

Although most this was only going to go one way, the USA gave it everything they had to cause New Zealand more of a challenge than they had faced in the World Cup so far.

The Black Ferns took the lead after just three minutes, an unconverted try by Subritzky-Natafali.  But USA were ahead 12 minutes later with a try from Thomas, converted by Kelter.

Cocksedge kicked her first points of the afternoon two minutes later, a penalty to take New Zealand 8-7 ahead.  On 25 they looked to be warming to their task as player of the match Portia Woodman went over for her first try, converted by Cocksedge.

At half-time it was 15-7 to the Black Ferns but there was a palpable feeling that they could still be beaten.

But it was not to be.  Woodman scored her second on 48 minutes.  It went unconverted, but a matter of minutes later Cocksedge popped over another penalty to make it 23-7.

Three minutes later USA were back in it with a try from Kelter, but she was unable to add the conversion.

On 62 Woodman went in for her hat-trick – my goodness she’s a force that England will have to keep quiet if they are to win this final.

Cocksedge missed the conversion but the score was 28-12.

The Eagles must have thought they were in with a chance three minutes later when Itunu was yellow-carded.  However, it only seemed to spur the Black Ferns on.  Woodman scored her fourth try on 71 minutes and although it went unconverted, just four minutes later they were in again, this time through Ngata-Aerengamate and they were home and hosed at 38-12.

They still had time to cross the line one more time Brazier scoring and Cocksedge converting to take the final score to 45-12.

England 20-3 France

This was a marvellous, bruising, brutal game, with plenty of hard-hitting tackling and powerful running.  France, who had been so majestic in their previous game against USA, were not allowed the same freedom by England, who smothered any attempt by the French backs to break away.

The sides went in level at half-time with just three points each on the board; one penalty from Emily Scarratt  and one from Shannon Izar.

After the break England went ahead again through another Scarratt penalty.  And then came the play of the match as prop Sarah Bern drove over to score a try which was also converted by Scarratt.

It was clear France were not going to give up and only a stunning last-ditch tackle from Megan Jones prevented Julie Annery from going over as her foot went into touch.

Jones then did some attacking herself, breaking French hearts as she pounced on a loose French ball behind the line and touched down for England’s third.

What a fine, well-fought match it was – it would have made an excellent final.

One blow for England is that Danielle Waterman will be unable to play in the final having suffered concussion during the semi-final.

Ireland 24-36

Ireland played for the fifth place semi-final, but were unable to come away with the victory and now play Wales in the seventh-place play-off.

Australia scored five tries with Williams, Riordan, Samoa, Boyle and Murphy all crossing the whitewash.  Four were converted by Hewson, who also kicked a penalty.

Ireland scored four tries through Egan, Miller, Spence and Fitzpatrick.  Conversions were by Stapleton and Tyrrell.

Everyone plays on Saturday 26 August for the placings.  The games are as follows:

11th place play-off Japan v Hong Kong (12noon)
9th place play-off Italy v Spain (2.30pm)
7th place play-off Ireland v Wales (2pm)
5th place play-off Australia v Canada (5pm)
Bronze Final France v USA (5pm)
Final England v New Zealand (7.45pm)

Tennis

Cincinnati Open

Britain’s Johanna Konta went out in the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati event, beaten by world number two Simona Halep 6-4 7-6.

Halep then defeated American Sloane Stephens 6-2 6-1 to get to the final.  There she met Spaniard Garbine Muguruza who had a tougher route; she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2 5-7 7-5 in the quarters before facing and defeating number one seed Karolina Pliskova 6-3 6-2.

Muguruza then obliterated Halep in the final 6-1 6-0.

US Open

The final grand slam of the season, the US Open, begins at Flushing Meadows on 28 August.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka has withdrawn due to an “ongoing family situation”, but one player who will be there is Maria Sharapova who has been handed a wildcard.

Cricket

The Ashes

Australian captain Meg Lanning is out of the Women’s Ashes following shoulder surgery.

It is thought she will be out of action for six to eight months.

The Ashes begin on 22 October in Brisbane.

No replacement has been announced as yet.

Kia Super League

It’s been an odd Super League this season.  I’m afraid it’s felt very much “after the Lord Mayor’s show” of the World Cup.  Apparently crowds are up on the back of it though, so it’s not all bad.  There have been some good performances and some stinkers.  Last year’s zeros, Surrey Stars, have suddenly become heroes, while Lancashire Thunder can’t seem to get their act together at all.   Loughborough Lightning have suffered from a combination of over-performing last season and doing badly out of the “redistribution” of players that was supposed to make things more even.  Consequently they have had a poor tournament.  And for the second season in a row, who can stop the mums’ army, Southern Vipers?

Personally I’m looking forward to next season when the tournament is expanded to home and away fixtures – five fixtures just isn’t enough.

Anyway, here are the results from the last week:

Sunday 20 August

Match 8, Stanley Park, Blackpool
Loughborough Lightning 140/5 (20 overs)
Lancashire Thunder 90 all out (17.2 overs)
Loughborough Lightning win by 50 runs

Match 9, Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Southern Stars 127/8 (20 overs)
Southern Vipers 100/7 (16.2 overs)
Surrey Stars win by 4 runs via D/L method

Match 10, York Cricket Club
Yorkshire Diamonds 160/7 (20 overs)
Western Storm 161/0 (17 overs)
Western Storm win by 10 wickets

Wednesday 23 August

Match 11, Aigburth, Liverpool
Lancashire Thunder 87 (20 overs)
Southern Vipers 88/4 (14.5 overs)
Southern Vipers won by 6 wickets

Match 12, The Oval, London
Surrey Stars 169/6 (20 overs)
Western Storm 117 all out (19.3 overs)
Surrey Stars win by 52 runs

Table:

  Played Won Lost Tied N/R Net RR Points
Surrey Stars 4 4 0 0 0 +1.445 18
Southern Vipers 4 3 1 0 0 +2.155 15
Yorkshire Diamonds 4 2 2 0 0 -0.001 8
Western Storm 4 2 2 0 0 -1.391 8
Loughborough Lightning 4 1 3 0 0 -0.269 5
Lancashire Thunder 4 0 4 0 0 -1.851 0

With one round of games to go the top two are through with the next three teams fighting for two places.  Lightning can still go through with only two wins, although their last match is against the in-form Surrey Stars.

Golf

Solheim Cup

The USA retained the Solheim Cup at the weekend with a convincing 16½-11½ victory over Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Although Europe won the singles on Sunday, the damage had already been done on the previous two days.

Europe started well.  In the first session on day one, they took the foursomes 2½-1½, but the afternoon saw a big swing as USA achieved their first clean sweep in a session, leaving the first day totals at 5½-2½.

This was always going to be a large deficit to pull back.

On day two the morning foursomes were tied, taking the score to 7½-4½, but USA again did well in the afternoon session, extending their lead to five points, 10½-5½ going into the singles.

Europe fought well and hard on the last day, but, as I have already said, the gap was too large to close.  The singles scores were as follows:

Lexi Thompson Halved Anna Nordqvist
Paula Creamer wins 1UP Georgia Hall
Cristie Kerr wins 2&1 Mel Reid
Stacy Lewis loses 1UP Catriona Matthew
Angel Yin Halved Karine Icher
Michelle Wie loses 4&2 Caroline Masson
Lizette Salas wins 1UP Jodi Ewart Shadoff
Brittany Lang loses 1UP Charley Hull
Brittany Lincicome loses 4&3 Carlota Ciganda
Gerina Piller wins 4&2 Florentyna Parker
Austin Ernst loses Madelene Sagstrom 3&2
Danielle Kang 3&1 Emily Pedersen

Europe will be looking to regain the trophy at Gleneagles in 2019.

Football

Retirments and Transfers

Scotland captain Gemma Fay has retired from international football.  She won 203 caps for her country.

This announcement came in the same week that both midfielder Leanne Ross and defender Ifeoma Dieke also declared themselves unavailable for further selection for international duty for Scotland.

The biggest (and shock) transfer news this week came from Manchester City, who announced that their England star and England’s standout player of the Euros, Lucy Bronze is to leave the club to join Champions League holders Lyon.  She has signed a three-year contract with the top French club in a deal that also saw Lyon forward and German international, Pauline Bremer, join City.

Arsenal have also been busy in the transfer market.  This week they signed Swedish right-back Jessica Samuelsson and have re-signed Germany defender Josephine Henning from Lyon.

European Under-19s

Spain 3-2 France

It was holders v three-time running losing finalist in the final in Belfast.

Spain, having lost the last three finals were in no mood to lose a fourth in a row, but it was France who took the lead with a tap-in from Mathilde Bourdieu as early as the fourth minute.

Fourteen minutes later Spain drew level through Patricia Guijarro and the sides went in level at half-time.

France went ahead again with 19 minutes to go with a curler from Emelyne Laurent, but with five minutes to go Damaris Egurrola headed in from a free kick to make it 2-2.

Two minutes later France were down to ten, as Pauline Dechilly was sent off for two yellow cards.

Spain seized their chance with Guijarro scoring her second in the last minute to take the game and the trophy.

Champions League

The Women’s Champions League is set to be bigger than ever.  61 teams from 49 football associations have applied to compete, including first-time appearances from Fiorentina and Ajax.

We are currently in qualifying with 40 clubs competing for 11 places in the round of 32.  There are 10 groups of 4 with group winners + just one best second placed team going through.

The only British teams involved in qualifying are Hibs and Swansea, who are, unluckily drawn in the same group.  Hibs already have a European pedigree which showed when they played their first group game this week – against Swansea

Hibernian 5-0 Swansea

Goals came from Small (11), Turner (18), Graham (42 P, 87) and Hunter (48)

There will be more Champions League coverage from me in the column this year, so watch this space.  It’s good to say something positive about UEFA, so I will.  There is an excellent website dedicated to the Champions League and I would encourage you all to take a look: http://www.uefa.com/womenschampionsleague/index.html

Eni Aluko

I hummed and hawed before deciding to include an item about the ongoing racism allegations that have hit England women’s football this week.  I have the utmost respect for Eni Aluko as both a footballer and a person, which leads me to think that her allegations must have substance and so I thought I owed it to her to say my piece.

It’s doubly hard though, as since taking over as England manager, Mark Sampson has been a breath of fresh air and a fantastic advocate for women’s football and women’s sport in general.

You can’t help but notice that since Sampson has been in post, the number of black players in an England shirt has dropped dramatically – some down to international retirement, such as Rachel Yankey, but others not so easy to explain.

The FA, as usual, has not come out of this well.  If Aluko hadn’t made it public, the FA would have been quite happy to never let a whiff of any investigation come to light.

Now Anita Asante and Lianne Sanderson have come out to back Aluko and the issue shows no sign of going away.

The FA needs to take action now.  There needs to be a more exhaustive investigation as any kind of discrimination has no place in sport, football and indeed the England set-up.

Goodness knows I write about this stuff every week and every week the level of abuse, discrimination and hate that I see women in sport having to face grinds me down just a little bit further.  If this was found to have basis it would be a terrible indictment of the England set-up.

I truly hope it’s a series of misunderstandings, but Aluko is an intelligent woman – she would have weighed it up in her mind before making anything public.  Sadly we can expect much more to come out in the ensuing weeks and months.

Snooker

The Paul Hunter Women’s Classic takes place in Fürth, Germany from 24-27 August.  As it has only just started as I post this column, I’ll defer until next week and give you the full lowdown then.  It is the tournament’s second year and it’s good to see it getting some (very limited) exposure.

More next week.

Hockey

It was heartbreak for England’s women on 24 August as they lost in the semi-final of the EuroHockey Championships in Amsterdam to the hosts 1-0.  England were the defending champions.

They had finished runners-up in group B, having beaten Ireland 4-1 and Scotland 2-0, but losing to Germany 1-0.  This meant they faced the Netherlands in the semi-final.

It was an incredibly tight game settled by a single goal, scored by Marloes Keetels in the fourth-quarter.

The Netherlands now play Belgium in the final on Saturday, while England play the other losing sem-finalists, Germany, for the bronze medal.

 Cycling

Marianne Vos won the Ladies Tour of Norway this week, finishing the final stage in third and taking the title by 13 seconds.

Megan Guarnier of the USA was in second and another Dutch rider, Ellen van Dijk in third.

The team title was taken by Team Sunweb and Vos also won the points title.

And Finally

Thanks to Jennie Powell of 4The Love of Sport for making me aware of the organisation Opening Boundaries, whose aim is “to use sporting initiatives as a platform for campaigns that facilitate gender equality & peace around the globe.”

On Sunday they held a cricket match between a combined India & Pakistan team and the UK Armed Forces Ladies team.  The fixture, now in its second year, is gaining coverage worldwide and is raising awareness both of women’s roles in sport and of violence against women and girls as part of its Bowling Out Domestic Violence campaign.  You can read a report of the game here.

So it’s a combination of women’s sport and empowering women and girls through sport – what’s not to love?  Check it out at the links above.  You can also follow them on twitter @OB_Official.

Women’s Sports Column 22-28 April 2017

CAYFS5MZWelcome to this week’s column.  There is so much to get through this week I’m going to crack straight on!  Stories come from football, tennis, athletics, netball, squash, gymnastics, taekwondo, cricket, hockey and rugby.  You can probably guess my “And finally” again this week….

Football – Off the Pitch

World Cup 2019

The draw has been made for the European section of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup.  England have been drawn in the same group as Wales along with Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kazakhstan.

The seven group winners will qualify automatically with the four best runners-up going into a two-round play-off to fill the last qualifying spot.

Qualifiers take place between 11 September 2017 and 4 September 2018

The draw in full:

Group 1: England, Russia, Wales, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kazakhstan.

Group 2: Switzerland, Scotland, Poland, Belarus, Albania.

Group 3: Norway, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Northern Ireland.

Group 4: Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia.

Group 5: Germany, Iceland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Faroe Islands.

Group 6: Italy, Belgium, Romania, Portugal, Moldova.

Group 7: Spain, Austria, Finland, Serbia, Israel.

PFA Awards

Lucy Bronze was awarded PFA Women’s Player of the Year this week.  The other shortlisted candidates were Jane Ross, Jill Scott, Ellen White, Karen Carney and Caroline Weir.

Jess Carter won the Women’s Young Player of the Year award.   Nikita Parris, Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir and Millie Bright were also shortlisted.

Kelly Smith was given a PFA Special Achievement Award.

On the Pitch

European Champions League

Saturday 22 April
Manchester City 1- 3 Lyon

Manchester City face an uphill battle if they are to overcome cup holders Lyon and qualify for the Champions League final.

Lyon went ahead after only two minutes after Carli Lloyd handled in the penalty area.  Saki Kumagai stepped up to score the penalty.

Kosovare Asllani equalised for City but the away side were quick to take the lead again, this time through Dzsenifer Marozsan.

French striker Eugenie Le Sommer scored a third in the second half.

The second leg takes place on Saturday 29 April.

Spring Series

The Spring Series is underway – without Notts County Ladies.

Saturday 22 April

Bristol City 1-3 Reading

After a goalless first half the visitors took the lead on 49 minutes when Rachel Furness headed home from a Rachel Rowe corner.

They were two up ten minutes later when Rowe carved out a chance to score herself and the tie was effectively over on 61 minutes when Melissa Fletcher poked home from a mistake in the Bristol defence.

Lauren Hemp pulled one back for the home side, but the points were gone.

Sunday 23 April

Birmingham City 0-0 Sunderland

With most of the possession and scoring opportunities, Birmingham City will be rueing missing their chances in this game, while Sunderland will be more than happy with a point.

Yeovil Town Ladies 1-4 Liverpool Ladies

The day started in a comedic fashion when it was revealed that Liverpool had forgotten to bring their away kit and so had to play in the home side’s away kit.  However, this was the end of the comedy for Yeovil Town’s as their first experience of the WSL1 was a tough one.

Liverpool took the lead on 23 minutes as Yeovil were penalised for handling in the box.  Alex Greenwood converted the penalty.

The away side doubled their lead in first-half injury time as Gemma Bonner poked home from a corner.

Yeovil were three down after 65 minutes when Katie Zelem scored from a Shanice Van De Sanden corner.  Zelem got her second on 75 to take it to 4-0.

Yeovil pulled one back in the 78th minute through a Sarah Wiltshire penalty.

Athletics

World Relays

Great Britain’s 4x400m team missed out on a bronze medal by 0.23 seconds in the Bahamas this week.  The team of Emily Diamond, Laviai Nielsen, Eilidh Doyle and Christine Ohuruogu finished fourth behind USA in first, Poland and Jamaica.

Germany took the 4 x 100m title ahead of Jamaica and China.

Kelly Sotherton

Heptathlete Kelly Sotherton has received her second upgraded bronze in five months after Russian athlete Tatyana Chernova was stripped of the bronze she won at Beijing in 2008 after she tested positive for a steroid.

She had already moved up to fourth from fifth after Ukrainian Lyudmila Blonska was disqualified.

London Marathon

Kenyan Mary Keitany won the women’s elite race, breaking Paula Radcliffe’s women-only record in the process.  She ran the marathon in a time of 2 hours 17 minutes 1 second, breaking the record by a massive 41 seconds.

Alyson Dixon was top British finisher in 12th, thus securing her World Championships place.   Jo Pavey was forced to pull out at around the 17 mile mark.

Manuela Schar of Switzerland won the wheelchair race, with Amanda McGrory of the USA in second and fellow American Susannah Scaroni in third.  Britain’s Jade Jones finished fifth.

 Cricket

It’s all change on the Subcontinent as both India and Pakistan have named new coaches just two months before the World Cup.

Pakistan

Sabih Azhar is the new Pakistan coach, taking over from Kabir Khan.  Pakistan also announced their squad for the upcoming tournament:

Sana Mir (Capt), Sidra Nawaz (wk), Ayesha Zafar, Nahida Khan, Marina Iqbal, Bismah Maroof, Javeria Khan, Nain Abidi, Kainat Imtiaz, Asmavia Iqbal, Diana Baig, Waheeda Akhtar, Nashra Sandhu, Ghulam Fatima, Sadia Yousuf.

India

In a surprise move, Purnima Rau has been sacked by the BCCI and replaced by Tushar Arothe.  Arothe was women’s fielding coach and then head coach between 2008 and 2012.

Rau has voiced concern that she only found out about the sacking via the media.

“I was preparing the team for the World Cup when I heard of this from elsewhere.  I wasn’t given any explanation or reason by the board. In fact they didn’t even have the courtesy to inform me. In terms of results, we were successful. To be axed this way is disappointing and insulting.”

Arothe’s first test will be in May in a series in South Africa in a limited overs tournament that also features Ireland and Zimbabwe.

England v Ireland Series

England are currently playing Ireland in a three-match series in Abu Dhabi as their World Cup warm-up continues.

24 April

England XI 397/4 (50 overs)
Ireland 103 all out (44 overs)
England won by 276 runs

Jenny Gunn hit 94 not out and Georgia Elwiss 81 as England comfortably won the first match of the series.

The England bowling was equally impressive with Anya Shrubsole taking 3-11 and Alex Hartley 3-24.

Hockey

Surbiton did the double last weekend as both their men’s and women’s teams won their respective Hockey League Finals.

For the women it was their fourth title in a row as they beat Holcombe 3-1.  Giselle Ansley scored Surbiton’s first and Rebecca Middleton the second before Eleanor Watton pulled one back for Holcombe.

Naomi Evans scored the third to ensure the title went to Surbiton.

Netball

Last weekend saw round 11 of the Netball Superleague.  Loughborough Lightning are still unbeaten and top the table by five points from Wasps as they won a thrilling game against the Thunder by just one point on Saturday.

Saturday 22 April

Team Bath 58-48 Celtic Dragons
Manchester Thunder 57-58 Loughborough Lightning
Team Northumbria 58-55 Hertfordshire Mavericks

Sunday 23 April

Wasps Netball 65-41 Sirens

Monday 24 April

Severn Stars 66-62 Surrey Storm

The next Sky televised game is on Saturday 29 when Mavericks take on the Storm (6pm), but all eyes will probably be on what happens an hour later when the top two, Lightning and Wasps, take on each other in Loughborough’s showcase game at the Leicester Community Arena.

Tennis

Lots of tennis news this week – mostly off the court, unfortunately.   Mr Nastase makes his appearance in my “And finally” comment, but there are other stories to cover.

Fed Cup

In amongst all the controversy and ill-feeling, there was actually some Fed Cup tennis going on last weekend.

Great Britain lost their World Cup Group II play-off against Romania, which means they are back in the Europe/Africa Zone.

Heather Watson lost the first rubber to Simona Halep 6-4 6-1.  Jo Konta levelled the tie when she beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-3.

On day two, though, Halep beat Konta 6-1 6-3 and Britain’s fate was sealed when Irina-Camelia Begu defeated Watson 6-4 7-5

In other Fed Cup news, it will be a USA v Belarus final.

USA beat the Czech Republic 3-2 and Belarus defeated Switzerland by the same margin.

Maria Sharapova

She’s back.  More pictures, film, social media comment and interviews have been devoted to Sharapova’s return this week than any other subject.

And she’s playing well.  After being given a wild card for the Stuttgart tournament she is now into the quarter finals.  She beat Roberta Vinci in the first round and powered past Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-1.

She faces Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit in the last eight.  Kontaveit put out fifth seed Garbine Muguruza in the previous round.

But not everyone is happy about her return.  Eugenie Bouchard has labelled Sharapova a “cheater” and said she should not be allowed back on the WTA tour.  The crowds have been respectful but cool.  It’s up to Sharapova to prove herself on the court if she is to win back the more general tennis watcher.

Stuttgart

In other Stuttgart news, Johanna Konta was knocked out in the second round by Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 7-5.

The last eight looks like this:

K Mladenovic v C Suárez Navarro
A Kontaveit v M Sharapova
A Sevastova v S Halep (4)
L Siegemund v K Pliskova (2)

Squash

England’s women’s squash team are through to the semi-finals of the European Team Championships after finishing top of their qualifying group.

They beat Denmark 3-0, the Netherlands 3-0 and Wales 3-0 and will now face the Netherlands again in the semi on Friday 28 April.

Taekwondo

Jade Jones has won gold at the World Taekwondo Federation President’s Cup in Athens.  It was her first competition since December 2016.

She won five contests to take the -57kg title.

Gymnastics

After reaching every final in the European Championships last week, Ellie Downie made good and took the all-round gold at the weekend.

She was in silver position going into the final rotation, but ended up beating Hungary’s Zsofia Kovacs by 0.333 points.   Downie scored 55.765 and Kovacs 55.432.  Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France finished in bronze on 55.065.

To cap a stunning weekend Downie also won a silver in the vault and floor and bronze in the uneven bars in the individual competition.

Ellie’s older sister Becky fell and injured her hands and was unable to participate in the beam final.  Her place was taken by Claudia Fragapane, but she fell in the final and finished eighth.  Fragapane also finished seventh on the floor.

Rugby

Premiership Finals

Aylesford Bulls Ladies were the perhaps surprise winners of the last Premiership final before the new Super League starts next season.

Aylesford Bulls 17-8 Bristol

Although they finished third in the table in the regular season, Bulls brought their best rugby to finals day to beat top of the league Bristol.

Aylesford took the lead in the third minute with a try from Hanna Field under the posts.  Jess Wooden converted to make it 7-0.

Bristol were then awarded a penalty, which Amber Reed kicked, but Aylesford hit straight back with their second try, this time from Michela Sillari in the corner.  The conversion was missed and the half-time sc ore was 12-3.

In the second half Bristol got their game together.  On 54 minutes Chantelle Miell went over in the corner.  The conversion was missed, but the deficit was cut to just four points.

But it was not to be for Bristol as Sillari scored her second to take the match away from them and take the game 17-8.

In the 3rd/4th play-off Lichfield took the honours as they beat Saracens 41-14.

Lichfield went ahead in the 16th minute when Emily Braund went over.  Emily Scarratt then added a penalty.

Saracens came back with a try from Lotte Clapp.

But Lichfield hit back themselves with a second try from Braund just on half-time to take the score the 15-7 at the break.

In the second-half Lichfield consolidated their lead with tries from Sarah Bonar and Carys Williams.  Tash Jones and Amy Cockayne scored two more for Lichfield taking the game, with Saracens having the last word with a try from Bryony Cleall.

And Finally

And finally, let’s talk Ilie Nastase.  Great player and entertainer in his time, yes.  But last week he showed that his off-court behaviour is not all it should be.  Firstly he made a racist comment about Serena Williams’ baby (not going to repeat it here), and then he seemingly had a complete meltdown at the Fed Cup tie between Great Britain and Romania.  In my relatively sheltered, liberal world I watched and listened to the unfolding events with shock and, I’m afraid, disbelief.  Do people really speculate about the colour of someone’s baby?  Naive I am, possibly, and if so I apologise, but I’m still struggling to understand why anyone would even say what he did.

As regards his Fed Cup behaviour, I feel pretty much as I did about the David Moyes situation.  Not acceptable in any sense, ever.  I listened to BBC Tennis correspondent Russell Fuller as her tried to make sense of what was going on and you could hear the shock in his voice.  He couldn’t believe what he’d heard and when he interviewed the head of the Romanian Tennis Federation who said basically it was “Ilie being Ilie” you could tell Fuller was biting his tongue to prevent himself giving an inappropriate response.

It is not acceptable that anyone reduces an opposing player to tears.  It is not appropriate that anyone is called “F****** bitches” on a tennis court.  It is up to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to see that it doesn’t happen again.  Will they?  I hope so.