Women’s Sports Column 26 August – 1 September 2017

rugby ballWelcome to this week’s column.  We’re coming to the end of a stunning summer for women’s sport and while there are those knuckle-draggers who will never give recognition to any woman playing sport, I’m glad to say there are many more of us (women and men) who take a very different view and the numbers are rising all the time.  I can’t help feeling a tad melancholy this week as it draws to a close, but hopefully the news and stories below will help restore my mood (and cheer you too!).

Stories this week come from rugby union (obviously) tennis, netball, cricket, badminton, modern pentathlon, hockey, golf and cycling.  But there’s only one place to start isn’t there – and what a game it was.

Women’s Rugby World Cup Final

Well I hope you were all watching, because although words are my business, I don’t think I can do justice to this match.  Prime time TV, ITV1 in the UK – social media and conventional media alike crying out that it needed to be a great match to engage the masses and move women’s rugby up a level.  And it didn’t disappoint.

England pressed from the off but were unable to convert pressure into points and were shocked after eight minutes when Selica Winiata pounced on a kick to score the first try.  Cocksedge, who had a relatively poor game with the boot, missed the conversion.

On 15 minutes New Zealand were penalised for a dangerous tackle and Emily Scarratt duly slotted over the resultant penalty.

On 20 minutes Sara Goss was yellow-carded for another dangerous tackle and England knew they had to take advantage.

England pressed on towards the line i a series of scrums, but as they got closer to the line the Black Ferns realised they had to scrum with just seven or risk losing cover on the wing.  This they did but broke up the scrummage illegally and the Red Roses were awarded a penalty try, taking it to 10-5 to England.

Eight minutes before half-time England were over again and looking confident.  Lydia Thompson went over on the wing and Scarratt converted well to take it 17-5.

England probably thought this would be the half-time score and perhaps relaxed early, but this proved to be a fatal error.  Toka Natua got in after they secured good line-out ball.   The conversion was missed and the half-time score was 17-10.

And breathe.

The second-half was completely different.  New Zealand came out a different team.  They hustled and harried from the first minute and England had no answer.

Just five minutes in Natua went over for her second.  England still seemed to be in the dressing room.  And to make matters worse for the Red Roses Cocksedge began to find her kicking form as she popped over her first conversion to make it 17-17.

Five minutes later England were ahead again through another Scarratt penalty, but the lead was short-lived.  Two minutes later Charmaine Smith pushed over, hitting the sponge around the post and again it was converted – 20-24.

On 55 England scored again Thompson flying 40 metres down to wing to cross the line for her second try of the match.  Scarratt missed the conversion and England’s lead was just one point.

At this point England Head Coach Simon Middleton introduced a whole raft of changes, something that drew some criticism after the game.  But there can be no doubt England were tiring and the changes made were quality ones.

On 58 Natua got her hat-trick under the posts and Cocksedge converted. The tide was turning in the Black Ferns’ favour.

Five minutes later Cocksedge got a try of her own, but she missed the conversion. New Zealand were 36-25 ahead.  With 20 minutes to go, although the scoreline was still tight, it seemed to be one-way traffic.

On 69 Winiata went over for her second after another good kick from Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali.  Cocksedge missed yet another conversion, but it mattered not as England appeared to be a beaten side.

But England had not finished scoring.  Izzy Noel-Smith went over with three minutes to go and Scarratt converted.

Kefu was yellow-carded for New Zealand, but England didn’t have the time to make it count and before they knew it the game was over.

New Zealand had won 41-32.

The better team had won – no doubt about it.  England fought to the end, but the Black Ferns’ third quarter had battered England into submission.

Without wanting to sound mawkish or trite and realising that I sound both, it was women’s rugby that was the winner on Saturday.  So many people will now realise what a great product it is (and what a good scrum can look like guys).  Let’s hope it leads not only to young girls taking up the sport, but also that the new revamped championship gets the coverage it deserves (i.e., any at all –and yes, BBC Sport, I do mean you).

Football

Women’s Champions League

The round of 32 draw will be made on 1 September.  The 11 teams that made it through qualifying are:

Gintra Universitetas (LTU), Olimpia Cluj (ROU), Ajax (NED), Medyk Konin (POL), Apollon (CYP), Minsk (BLR), *Zürich (SWI), Stjarnan (ICE), BIIK-Kazygurt (KAZ), Avaldsnes (NOR). PAOK (GRE)

*qualified as best runners-up.

The teams receiving a bye into the round of 32 are:

Lyon (FRA, holders), Wolfsburg (GER), FC Rosengård (SWE), Barcelona (ESP), Fortuna, Hjørring (DEN), Bayern München (GER), Brøndby (DEN), Rossiyanka (RUS), Manchester City (ENG), Glasgow City (SCO), Zvezda-2005 (RUS), Brescia (ITA), Slavia Praha (CZE), Sparta Praha (CZE), Linköping (SWE), Chelsea (ENG), Montpellier (FRA), LSK Kvinner (NOR), St. Pölten (AUT), Atlético Madrid (ESP), Fiorentina (ITA)

As you probably know, coverage in the UK will be absolutely minimal so I’d again recommend you check out the UEFA website for updates:

http://www.uefa.com/womenschampionsleague/index.html

These are the dates you need to know:

Round of 32: 4/5 & 11/12 October
Round of 16: 8/9 & 15/16 November

Quarter-finals: 21/22 & 28/29 March
Semi-finals: 21/22 & 28/29 April
Final: 24 May 2018, Valeriy Lobanovskiy Dynamo StadiumKyiv

Other football news and signings

Lieke Martens was named UEFA Women’s Player of the Year 2016-17 this week.

The 24-year old plays for Barcelona and had a stand-out tournament for the Netherlands at the Euros earlier in the summer.

She finished ahead of Pernille Harder of Denmark in second and Dzsenifer Marozsán of Germany in third.

Final standings
1: Lieke Martens (Netherlands, Rosengård and Barcelona)
2: Pernille Harder (Denmark, Linköping and Wolfsburg)
3: Dzsenifer Marozsán (Germany, Lyon)
4: Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands, Bayern München and Arsenal)
5: Eugénie Le Sommer (France, Lyon)
6: Wendie Renard (France, Lyon)
7: Jackie Groenen (Netherlands, FFC Frankfurt)
8: Lucy Bronze (England, Manchester City and Lyon)
9: Jodie Taylor (England, Arsenal)
10: Shanice van de Sanden (Netherlands, Liverpool)

Previous winners of the award:
2012/13 ─ Nadine Angerer (Germany, FFC Frankfurt)
2013/14 ─ Nadine Kessler (Germany, Wolfsburg)
2014/15 ─ Célia Šašić (Germany, FFC Frankfurt)
2015/16 ─ Ada Hegerberg (Norway, Lyon)

Arsenal

Striker Danielle Carter has signed a new contract with Arsenal.  The length of the contract has not been revealed although it is described as “long-term”.

Liverpool

Liverpool, however, have not had such a good week.  Their Dutch star Shanice van de Sanden has left to join Champions League holders Olympique Lyonnais Feminin.

Golf

Park Sung-hyun of South Korea claimed another title at the weekend when she won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open by two shots from compatriot Lee Mi-rim.

She finished on -13, with M Lee on -11, with a tie for third between Nicole Broch Larsen of Denmark, Chun In-gee of Korea, Shanshan Feng of China and Cristie Kerr of USA on -10.

Park hit a seven-under 64 in the final round to overcome a four shot deficit from the third round.

Holly Clyburn was top British finisher on -3 while Charley Hull was way back in the pack on +6.

American star Michelle Wie had to withdraw before the start of the final round when she had to undergo surgery to remove her appendix.  This seems to be catching – see cycling below!

Hockey

England’s women secured a bronze medal at the EuroHockey Championships in Amsterdam with a 2-0 win over Germany.

Hannah Martin and Alex Danson scored the goals.

The gold medal went to the Netherlands who beat Belgium 3-0 in the final.

Their goals came from Margot van Geffen, Kelly Jonker and Ireen van den Assem (Penalty stroke).

Modern Pentathlon

A sport featuring rarely in this column, but as the World Modern Pentathlon Championships were held in Cairo this week it should be in.

The events were pistol shooting, fencing, 200m swimming, show jumping and a 3km run (apologies if you already knew this).

In the women’s events the results were as follows:

Individual

Gold went to Gulnaz Gubaydullina of Russia with 1,292 points.  Silver was taken by Zsófia Földházi of Hungary, who was a mere seven points behind on 1,285 and in bronze position was Anastasiya Prokopenko of Belarus, again just behind with 1,281 points.

Team

The team title went to Germany with 2,815 points.  Second were Russia on 2,797 and third Italy on 2,791.

Relay

The relay winners were Germany on 1,276 points with Egypt in second on 1,243 and Japan third on 1,238.

Badminton

Women’s singles

Kirsty Gilmour was defeated in the quarter-finals of the World Championships in Glasgow.  She lost 21-19 18-21 21-15 to Saina Nehwal of India.

The gold medal went to Nozomi Okuhara of Japan who beat PV Sindhu of India 21-19 20-22 22-20.

Bronze medals went to Chen Yufei of China and Saina Nehwal.

Mixed doubles

Chris and Gabby Adcock lost in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles to Chinese pair and top seeds  Zheg Siwei and Chen Qingchen 21-15 23-21.  This meant they secured a bronze medal but they were still disappointed with the outcome.  Gabby Adcock spoke to BBC Sport:

“We’re disappointed because we felt we had a chance today.

“It was one of our worst performances of the week and I’m struggling to find a reason as to why but we just couldn’t get going.”

The gold medal winners were Tontowi Ahmed and Liliyanna Natsir of Indonesia who beat the Adcocks’ vanquishers 15-21 21-16 21-15 in the final.

Women’s Doubles

The Women’s Doubles title was taken by Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan of China who beat Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota of Japan in the final 21-18 17-21 21-15.  Bronze medals went to Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, also of Japan, and Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark.

Netball

The Quad Series in Brisbane is in full swing.  England are finally showing how much they have improved recently and have so far recorded one loss and one win.

Australia 54-50 England

So tight and so close for the Roses!  But it wasn’t always that way.  At half-time England were trailing by 10 points 32-22 and it looked as if the Diamonds were in for yet another easy win.

By the end of the third quarter England had cut the deficit to six and were getting closer by the end but Australia managed to hold on.

Helen Housby top scored for England with 30 goals, an 88% conversion rate, but this was knocked into a cocked hat by Australia’s Caitlin Bassett who scored 43 goals at a conversion rate of 93%.

But England would have been buoyed by this performance going into their second game against New Zealand.

New Zealand 45-49 England

On Wednesday 30 England registered their first win against New Zealand in a Quad Series.

The Roses were down by just one point 37-36 going into the fourth quarter in Auckland and they had a storming last period to take it by four.  Kadeen Corbin scored seven goals in the final quarter as the Roses pulled away.

Helen Housby was top scorer again for England with 26 goals at a conversion rate of 81%.  Bailey Mes scored 28 for the Silver Ferns.

England play South Africa on Sunday to see if they can finish second in a Quad Series for the first time.

South Africa have lost both of their first two games, against New Zealand 63-56 and Australia 58-52.

Cycling

Lizzie Deignan’s participation in the World Championships is in doubt after she had her appendix removed this week.

The Road World Championships take place in Bergen, Norway, from September 17-24.  The women’s road race is on 23 September.

Deignan would be one of the favourites if she recovers in time to take part.

Tennis

It’s been a bizarre old start to the US Open with seeds falling like dominoes.  Everyone has an opinion on the participation of Maria Sharapova, including former world number one, Caroline Wozniacki who branded the scheduling of Sharapova’s matches all on the show courts to be “questionable”.  I’ll leave you to make up your own minds on that one.

Some of the high (and low) lights so far:

Both Johanna Konta and Heather Watson lost in the first round.  Konta lost to unseeded world number 78 Aleksandra Krunic 4-6 6-3 6-4.

Watson lost to Alizé Cornet of France in straight sets 6-4 6-4.

Defending champion Angelique Kerber also departed in round one, losing in straight sets to world number 45, Japanese 19-year old Naomi Osaka 6-3 6-1.

Maria Sharapova, who is, as I’ve already said never far from the headlines, is through to the third round.  Her first round defeat of world number two, Simona Halep 6-4 4-6 6-3 sent shockwaves around Flushing Meadows.

She defeated Timea Babos of Hungary in the second 6-7 6-4 6-1 and faces the unseeded Sofia Kenin of the United States in the third.

Other players of note to go through to the third round are world number one, Karolina Pliskova, who had to fight off a strong challenge from Nicole Gibbs to win 2-6 6-3 6-4.  French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is still in the mix after she defeated Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-4 6-4.

One seed to bite the dust in the second round was number 23, Barbora Strycova, who was soundly beaten by American Jennifer Brady 6-1 6-1.  Three more Americans through to the third round are Venus Williams, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe.

I think it’s safe to say it’s wide open!

Cricket

The past week has seen and will see the culmination of the women’s cricket season in England.  Last weekend the County Championship was decided and on Friday 1 September it’s Kia Super League Finals day.

County Championship

Lancashire have been crowned Division 1 champions, having won five of their seven games this season.  The full standings were as follows:

Team Played Won Lost Points
Lancashire 7 5 2 99
Yorkshire 7 5 2 98
Warwickshire 7 5 2 96
Nottinghamshire 7 4 3 88
Middlesex 7 3 4 76
Kent 7 3 4 71
Sussex 7 3 4 66
Berkshire 7 0 7 24

Sussex and Berkshire are relegated to Division 2.  Their places are taken by the top two finishers in the second division this year, which were Hampshire and Somerset.

Kia Super League

The last three matches took place on Saturday 26 August.  Loughborough won again, but with Western Storm also taking the points it was not enough for the Lightning to go through.  To be honest, they didn’t deserve to anyway on the performances I saw.

Match 13
Bristol County Ground
Lancashire Thunder 122/5 (20 overs)
Western Storm 123/5 (17.1/20 overs)
Western Storm won by 5 wickets

Match 14
The Oval
Loughborough Lightning 171/3 (20 overs)
Surrey Stars 90 all out (18 overs)
Loughborough Lightning won by 81 runs

Match 15
Arundel Castle
Southern Vipers 138/6 (20 overs)
Yorkshire Diamonds 108 all out (18.3 overs)
Southern Vipers won by 30 runs

Finals Day – Hove

Southern Vipers automatically qualify for the final with the other place being fought out between Surrey Stars and Western Storm.

And Finally,

This has just popped up into my inbox and so I had to share it, especially as it is about my Leicestershire neck of the woods.  Good grief Cycling Weekly.  Sort yourselves out:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-41122033

Apologies, but there will be no column next week as I am out and about elsewhere.

 

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 5-11 August 2017

rugby ballWelcome to this week’s column.  I realise I am terribly late with my Rugby World Cup preview, and the KSL also returned this week, but, as you know, I’m struggling for time at  the moment – the World Athletics Championships have nearly passed me by completely!  I will do the best I can to keep up, but I’m giving my apologies now if I fall short.  The good stuff just keeps on coming with the Solheim Cup and the Netball Quad Series still to look forward to.

So, less blathering, more reporting.  This week’s stories come from rugby, golf, athletics, tennis, hockey, netball, football and cricket.

Firstly to the football and the final of the Women’s Euros.

Football

Women’s Euros Final

Netherlands 4-2 Denmark

What a fitting final to grace an excellent tournament!  It had everything; goals, tackles, great defending, great goalkeeping, mistakes and a fabulous crowd.

The largely orange crowd were silenced after six minutes when Nadia Nadim slotted home a penalty, but the Dutch were level four minutes later Vivianne Miedema poked in from close range.

Player of the tournament, Lieke Martens scored the Netherlands’ second with a 20-yard strike.  But five minutes later the Danes were level again through Pernille Harder.

2-2 at half-time after a breathless, end-to-end 45 minutes.

The second-half was just as competitive.  Six minutes after the re-start through a Sherida Spitse free-kick.  Denmark gave everything they had to come back, but in the 89th minute Danish hearts were finally broken when Miedema got her second.

Netherlands were the best team overall, no doubting that.  England’s Jodie Taylor received the Golden Boot for her five goals.

Other football news

It was announced on Wednesday that the English FA will bid to host the 2021 Women’s Euros.  England last hosted the tournament in 2005 and the current boom in the women’s game has prompted the FA to bid again.

FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn, said,

“The Lionesses’ performances at the Euros this summer gave the country great pride.  It also showed the significant impact that hosting a major European tournament can have on growing and developing women’s football.”

Can’t wait for unreconstructed man commenting on this.

The bidding process begins in September, with a decision due in 2018.

The FA has also announced that it is looking into fielding a women’s GB side at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.  Let’s hope the home nations come to an agreement in time, after their singular failure to do so for Rio.

Women’s Under-19 Euros

Hot on the heels of the Euros comes the under-19 version, which is taking place in Northern Ireland from 8-20 August.

Eight teams have qualified for the finals – split into two groups of four.

Group A: Germany, Spain, Northern Ireland, Scotland

Group B: Italy, France, Netherlands, England

The first round of matches produced the following results:

Group A:

Scotland 0-3 Germany

It could have been more for Germany had it not been for the excellent display from Scots goalkeeper Rebecca Flaherty.  Germany took the points with goals from Giulia Gwinn (19), Annalena Rieke (39) and Ereleta Memeti (80).

Northern Ireland 0-2 Spain

Likewise Spain were too strong for the host nation.  Lucia Garcia scored the first on the half-hour with captain Patricia Guijarro scoring on 53 minutes to seal the win.

Group B:

France 0-2 Netherlands

The Netherlands scored an impressive win over Cup-holders France with two goals in the first-half.  Victoria Pelova opened the scoring after just 10 minutes and an own goal from Julie Piga sealed the points for the Netherlands.

Italy 1-2 England

Two goals from Georgia Allen in the second-half were enough to take the points against Italy.  Italy pulled one back in second-half injury time through Annamaria Senturini.

The second round takes place on Friday 11 August.

Women’s Rugby World Cup

Having watched most of the first round of games, I can, with some relief, say that my original thoughts as to the ultimate destiny of the Cup have not changed significantly.  There were some unsurprisingly big wins as minnow were rolled over, with the undoubted highlight of the round being the game between Ireland and Australia.

England and New Zealand are the teams to beat and everyone will be looking to overturn them.  Canada and France will also be in the mix and as dark horses we have to include Ireland.  Can the “Netherlands effect” work in their favour?  It certainly helped at the first game against Australia.  Actually Australia were a good deal sharper than I expected and their sevens speed will be an asset, but I do question their ability, with so many sevens players in the squad, to last 80 minutes on a regular basis.

Right, on with the scores:

England 56-5 Spain

Clinical, but not perfect for England

England ran in 10 tries in their first game with four for Kay Wilson.  The other tries came from Emily Scarratt, Amy Cockayne, Harriet Millar-Mills, Alex Matthews, Lydia Thompson and Megan Jones.  Conversions came from Kay McLean (2) and Emily Scarratt.

Spain’s dogged persistence finally paid off towards the end of the first half as they scored from and England handling-error through Diana Gasso.

Although this was a good first result for England they know they will have to tighten up in certain areas if they are to progress.  They had 88% of territory, making 911 metres compared with Spain’s 258.  But the kicking was not too sharp and the line-outs positively ropey.  Their next game is against Italy on Sunday.

New Zealand 44-12 Wales

It was a tough start for Wales and by half-time they were 20-0 down.  Sioned Harries and Melissa Clay went over for Wales, but they were undone by merciless attacking speed from the Black Ferns, whose tries came through Winiata (3), Waaka, Wickliffe (2), Woodman and Blackwell.

USA 24-12 Italy

A tight game saw the Eagles claim the win with four tries to Italy’s two.  Kris Thomas scored the USA’s first after just two minutes with Kimber Rozier adding the conversion. Rozier went in for a try of her own on 17 minutes, but missed the conversion, to make it 12-0 to the USA.  Nine minutes later Italy were back in with scoring through Lucia Cammarano, which was converted.   In the second-half Thomas and Gustaitis went in for the USA.  Italy pulled one back with a late try from Giordano after Thomas had been yellow-carded.  A good confidence-building win for the USA.

Canada 98-0 Hong Kong

A crushing win for Canada, not really doing anything for the game, but Hong Kong have to start somewhere.  I fear for Hong Kong as things don’t get any easier as they face the Black Ferns next on Sunday 13 August.

Ireland 19-17 Australia

What a match!  Gosh, so tempting it is to trot out a whole line of clichés – they went toe to toe, knocking lumps out of each other, no quarter asked or given, etc.  But it’s also all true!  Before the game I thought Ireland, even without Niamh Briggs, would have it in the bag against such and inexperienced 15s side.  But Aussies never know when to quit (another cliché) and it was mighty tight to the end.

Ireland took the lead with at try from Larissa Muldoon, converted by Nora Stapleton.  But Australia hit back with a try of their own from Mahalia Murphy.  In what soon became a kicking nightmare for Australia, the conversion was missed by Samantha Treherne as the ball fell from the kicking tee just as it was about to be kicked.

After half-time Australia silenced the crowd by going in front with a try from Shannon Parry but there was further embarrassment in the kicking department as Treherne then took, what I would consider, to be one of the worst kicks I’ve ever seen.  We all laughed at the time, but in the end the difference was two points.

Ireland went back in front with a converted try by Ciara Griffin.  And when they scored again with ten minutes to go, the try by Sophie Spence adjudged legitimate by the TMO, Ireland were well ahead and the Aussies seemed to be tiring.

But it was Australia who were to have the last word, prop Hilisha Samoa tunnelling her way through a pile of Irish bodies to get over the line.

The TV coverage kept cutting to poor Niamh Briggs in the stand who was clearly playing every ball.  I hope she has some less-close matches to watch otherwise she’ll have no nails left.

France 72-14 Japan

Japan were touted as a possible outside threat before the tournament began, but this first game surely showed that they still have some way to go before being competitive in the big arena.  Twelve tries for France saw them win easily and a red card for Makiko Tomito for Japan in the second-half did not have improved the situation.

Live coverage is on ITV4.  It’s quite good (thank goodness for Maggie Alphonsi) – sorry can’t be more enthusiastic than that.  And as beggars can’t be choosers, I’d encourage you to tune in.

Tennis – Rogers Cup

There was disappointment for Heather Watson this week as she pulled out with injury in the first round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

She was behind 6-1 4-1 to Naomi Osaka of Japan when she forfeited the match with a shoulder injury.

The quarter-finals take place on 11 and 12 August and the line-up is as follow:

K Pliskova (1) v C Wozniacki (6)

S Stephens v L Safarova

E Svitolina (5) v G Muguruza (4)

C Garcia v S Halep (2)

Athletics – World Championships

I think it’s safe to say that this has not been a vintage World Championships for Team GB.

So far we have only one medal – a gold for Mo Farah in the 10,000m.

Best results for British female athletes:

Laura Muir was a whisker away from taking a bronze in the 1,500m as she came in fourth.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson came in fifth in the heptathlon after really blowing her chances on the first day.

Holly Bradshaw came a creditable sixth in the pole vault but was not far away from getting a medal.

Sophie Hitchon came seventh in the hammer and Eilidh Doyle eighth in the 400m hurdles.

We still have potential medallists though on Friday 11 August with Dina Asher-Smith qualifying for the 200m and Lorraine Ugen in the long jump final.

There are plenty of events still to come through the weekend, so keep watching.  Blanket coverage on the BBC.

Netball

The netball Quad Series begins at the end of the month with England’s first game against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday 26 August at 6am.

They then play New Zealand in Auckland on Wednesday 30 August (8.30am) and South Africa in Invercargill on Sunday 3 September (3am).

Australia have already suffered a blow with top (and scariest) defender Sharni Layton pulling out of the squad, having been diagnosed with physical and mental exhaustion.

England have named a full-strength squad:

Ama Agbeze (captain), Jade Clarke (vice-captain), Joanne Harten (vice-captain), Sara Bayman, Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Eleanor Cardwell, Beth Cobden, Kadeen Corbin, Stacey Francis, Jodie Gibson, Serena Guthrie, Helen Housby, Geva Mentor, Chelsea Pitman.

Reserves: Summer Artman, Sasha Corbin, George Fisher, Natalie Haythornthwaite

Hockey

Just a quick notice!  The public ballot for tickets to the 2018 World Cup, to be held in London from 21 July -5 August opens on 19 August.  Follow this link to register – it’s a short window, the ballot closes on 6 September.

 Golf

Solheim Cup

The teams, including the captains’ picks, are in!  The Solheim Cup is nearly upon us.  The USA are the current holders, having won in Germany in 2015, 14½-13½.

Europe captain Annika Sorenstam had four wildcard picks and chose Anna Nordqvist (Swe), Madelene Sagstrom (Swe), Caroline Masson (Ger) and Emily Pedersen (Den).

Julie Inkster had two wildcard picks for the USA and chose Austin Ernst and Angel Yin.  Although not originally included, Paula Creamer has now been drafted in, as Jessica Korda has pulled out through injury.

The teams in full:

Europe: Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Mel Reid, Florentyna Parker, Carlota Ciganda, Karine Icher, Suzann Pettersen. Wildcards: Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Masson, Emily Pederson, Magdalene Sagstrom.

USA: Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Gerina Piller, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Danielle Kang, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lang, Brittany Lincicome, Lizette Salas. Captain’s Picks: Austin Ernst, Angel Yin.

The Solheim Cup takes place at the Des Moines Country Club in Iowa from 18-20 August and is live on Sky Sports.

British Open

Kim In-Kyung of Korea has won the British Open at Kingsbarns in Scotland at the weekend.  She won by two shots over Jodie Ewart Shadoff of England, finishing on -18.  Michelle Wie of the United States took a share of third with Caroline Masson of Germany and Georgia Hall of England as they finished on -13.

Kim had a six-shot lead going into the last round, but in the end she had to hold on as Ewart Shadoff shot a storming course-equalling round of 64 to pull the deficit back to just two shots.

Cricket

Kia Super League

The second season of the Kia Super League gets underway this week.  Each team still only plays each other once, with Finals Day this year at Hove on 1 September.

The ECB has revealed this week that next year’s competition will be expanded so that each team will play a more usual format of home and away ties.  This good news comes in the wake of an earlier announcement that the ECB has shelved plans for a similar women’s 50-over completion.  When the T20 competition was announced, the ECB said its plans were to extend it to a 50-over competition in a matter of a couple of years.  This is a massive U-turn and somewhat of a slap in the face for a country that has just won a 50-over World Cup.

Not sure how many times I’ve said this, but the various governing bodies have to stop using women’s sport as a guinea pig – so many initiatives announced, so many either dropped before they’ve started or after a limited time – see the RFU and its contract scandal, for example.

The ECB obviously want the women to be concentrating on T20, when really it is the grassroots county game that needs the money.  Where will the much vaunted “pathway” be for county players to get into the England one-day side? It’s a huge jump.

The odds are it will all change again in 2020 when the men’s “franchises” (hush my mouth, dirty word) for the T20 Blast will be revealed.  It is thought that the women’s Super League will then be revamped in line with these franchises.

Anyway, it all began again on Thursday 10 August with a somewhat underwhelming start at the Ageas Bowl as reigning champions the Southern Vipers took on Western Storm.

Western Storm 70 all out (18.5 overs)
Southern Vipers 73/1 (9 overs)

Not a storming start (sorry) to the KSL as the Vipers thrashed the Storm, knocking off their target in just nine overs.  Not even the missing Anya Shrubsole could have turned this round.

Top scorer for Storm was opener Georgia Hennessy, who dug in in the face of the carnage around her.

England captain Heather Knight, made only one before being bowled by Linsey Smith.  The only other player to make double figures was Fran Wilson who made 10.

In an attempt to up the scoring to make some kind of defendable total, Storm suffered three run-outs towards the end of the innings, including that of Sophie Luff who was dismissed by a direct hit from Charlotte Edwards.

In response the Vipers made it look all too easy.  They have a truly scary batting order, which was not needed on this occasion.  Hayley Matthews was the only wicket to fall as she hit out with freedom in attempt to get the game won.  She was caught by Hennessy off the bowling of Stafanie Taylor for 15.

New Zealand captain Suzie Bates (47) and Georgia Adams (3) saw them home.

Coverage is on Sky and BBC TMS.

And finally,

I still must try harder to stop reading the comments sections, particularly on the BBC.  I thought the rugby had cracked it and it was accepted that the women’s game is a quality product (not that I care whether you accept it or not), but this is not the case.  Cue the usual misogyny on the BBC comments sections.  Bored now.

Sorry, no column next week as I’ll be working elsewhere.  Don’t forget, if you’ve enjoyed reading the column please share it with your networks.  I’m also happy to discuss any (non-troll) aspects of women’s sport.

Women’s Sports Column 29 July – 4 August 2017

soccer ballWelcome to this week’s column.  I’m still calming down after the amazing day that was the Women’s World Cup Final, but there’s no time to rest as the Women’s Euros come to their thrilling conclusion this weekend.  After that it’s the Rugby World Cup.  This fantastic summer of sport just goes on and on!

Stories this week come from football, tennis, cricket, lacrosse, and rugby.

Women’s Euros

Well it’s all over for the Lionesses. Can’t pretend I’m not gutted, but the better side won in the semi-final – England weren’t robbed or anything, so that’s the way the game goes.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been enjoying this tournament a lot.  It has been great to see some teams, other than the usual suspects, progressing.  There certainly would have been long odds on the final four being Austria, Denmark, England and the Netherlands.  But surely it’s all the better for that.  Germany and Sweden were particularly disappointing, but at least it gives someone else a go.

In case you missed it (and where were you, if you did?), here’s what happened in the quarter-finals.

Austria 0-0 Spain
Austria won 5-3 on penalties

Spain were clear favourites to win this match and to progress to the quarter-finals, but Austria, in their first Euros, clearly hadn’t read the script.

Silvia Meseguer missed her penalty and Sarah Puntigam put hers away coolly to take the Austrians through.

Netherlands 2-0 Sweden

Goals from Lieke Martens and Vivianne Miedema were enough to see the tournament hosts beat a disappointingly disjointed Sweden side in front of a packed house in Doetinchem to reach the semi-finals.

After Martens had scored with a free kick, the Netherlands were always in control and Sweden quickly lost heart.

The immensely impressive Shanice van de Sanden rampaged down the wing, crossing to Miedema to tap in for the second and it was all over.

Germany 1-2 Denmark

The biggest shock came in Rotterdam where the unfancied Denmark beat reigning champions Germany.

The game had to be played on the reserve day as the torrential rain caused the original fixture to be postponed.

Germany took the lead through Isabel Kerschowski.  The Danish goalkeeper was at fault, parrying the shot into the net.  Germany held the lead until just after half-time when Nadia Nadim headed in the equaliser for the Danes.

Seven minutes from time Theresa Nielsen headed in the winner as she stood unmarked in the centre.

England 1-0 France

England hung on by hook or by crook to beat France for the first time in 43 years in a competitive game in Deventer on Sunday.

England were far from perfect and it was only the stalwart defence that kept France out.

Jodie Taylor scored the winner – her fifth in three games – after being put in by Lucy Bronze.  Bronze had another excellent game – her strength and consistency are phenomenal.

Two minus points for England; Jill Scott received her second booking, thereby missing the Semi-final on Thursday and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley broke her leg in a collision with her own captain, Steph Houghton.  Somehow she played on for 15 minutes, going down a couple of times for treatment, which earned whistling and howls of derision from the French fans.  In the end she was replaced by Siobhan Chamberlain and it was revealed later that Bardsley had suffered a fracture.

Semi-finals

Denmark 0-0 Austria
Denmark won 3-0 on penalties

This was a tight game with plenty of chances for both sides.  In the 13th minute Austria were awarded a penalty for handball, but Sarah Puntigam, who had so coolly slotted in the winning penalty in the quarter-final, this time blazed over.   At the final whistle they could not be separated and the tie went into extra time.    Denmark had had the lion’s share of possession, but could not force a goal.  Both sides again had chances during extra time but it remained stubbornly goalless and it was penalties.

Austria should have been confident going into penalties after their excellent display against Spain, but this time it all went wrong.  They missed their first three spot-kicks and Simone Sorensen put away hers to send the Danes through to the final.

Netherlands 3-0 England

A largely orange crowd of over 27 thousand saw the hosts rout England with an impressive display of attacking football.  The Netherlands were on the front foot from the off and England seemed to have no reply.

The hosts took the lead after just 22 minutes when Vivianne Miedema headed in and it was only then that England started to look calmer and more possessed.  They should have equalised when Jade Moore’s shot was deflected onto her own post by a Netherlands defender.

With Shanice van de Sanden (one of my stars of the tournament) and Lieke Martens raiding down the flanks the Dutch were consistently dangerous, but managed relatively few meaningful shots.

With England 1-0 down at the break and the crowd in full voice, it was up to Mark Sampson to rally the team and get them moving.  But the second half started very much as the first, with the Netherlands coming forward and England retreating.  Fara Williams, in for the suspended Jill Scott (who was very much missed) had a poor game and on 62 minutes Danielle van de Donk capitalised on a misplaced header back to the goalkeeper, making it 2-0 and the game was effectively over.

I feel Sampson made some odd decisions regarding substitutions.  Ellen White was having a stinker and should have been replaced.  I would have liked to have seen Toni Duggan on much earlier and someone creative like Izzy Christiansen to replace Williams.

But it was not to be for the Lionesses.  In injury time Millie Bright deflected the ball into her own net, which seemed to sum up the night for England.  It made the scoreline a little flattering for the Netherlands, but there can be no doubt that they were the better side on the night, by a considerable margin.

According to all reports the England squad is “devastated”.  And rightly so.  They were the highest ranked team left in the competition and could and perhaps should have gone on to win it.  The Netherlands of course had some stunning home support, but England have shown defiance in this kind of situation again and again.  Sampson will need to look at his plans again.  He’s been a great influence for good with this side, don’t get me wrong, but I think he will have to learn, along with his Lionesses, if they are to make that final push to win a major tournament.

The final between Denmark and the Netherlands is on Sunday at 4pm and is live on Channel 4.  The programme starts at 3pm.

Rugby Union

England contracts

As we know, Scrumqueens reported the demise of England women’s fifteens contracts some weeks ago and I mentioned it soon after in my column, but it looked as if the RFU’s decision had slipped under the mainstream media radar (surprise).

But in the last week or so the wider media has finally chipped in with its pennyworth.  The RFU has come under increasing pressure to reconsider its stance.  As yet, there’s no word of this actually happening, but should there be any changes in policy, hopefully I’ll bring it to you as soon as is possible.

Tyrrells Premier 15s.

Whilst the contracts controversy rumbles on, the RFU announced this week that the replacement for the Women’s Premiership will be called the Tyrells Premier 15s.

The crisp manufacturer has signed a three-year deal to sponsor the league.

The league, which comprises 10 teams will be in the usual home and away league format.  The top four will then go to semi-finals played over two legs and the final will be on 29 April 2018.

RFU director of professional rugby, Nigel Melville said of the announcement,

“The Tyrrells Premier 15s competition is an important step forward for women’s rugby to strengthen the foundations of the women’s game as it continues to grow in popularity.

“By investing at domestic level we can build a sustainable model to support the growth of the game at elite level.

“The competition will crucially expand the playing pool of players available for international selection which will enable us to reach our long-term objective of running dual professionalised 15s and sevens programmes and allow us to compeon all fronts at the highest level.”

I think we can safely say that this was the RFU’s “subtle” way of deflecting the criticism over contracts.

There will also be a new development league for the 10 clubs’ 2nd teams who will also play in the RFU Women’s Senior Cup alongside the Women’s Championship North and South teams.

World Cup News

Ireland suffered a massive blow this week when captain Niamh Briggs withdrew from the squad through injury.

Briggs had only just come back from the hamstring injury that kept her out of the Six Nations when she suffered an Achilles injury in training.

Louise Galvin has been called up as replacement for Briggs.

Ireland have announced that their captain will now be flanker Claire Molloy.  Molloy has plenty of experience, having won 53 caps.  This will be her third World Cup.

“I’m incredibly humbled to be given the opportunity to captain my country, it’s a massive honour to be selected to lead the team in a World Cup on home soil.

“I’m fortunate that I’ll be surrounded by players with great experience, and I’m just really looking forward to pulling on the green jersey and running out with my team-mates,” she said.

Ireland are in tough group C:

Pool games:
Wednesday 9 August v Australia (UCD Bowl Dublin) 7pm
Sunday 13 August v Japan (UCD Bowl Dublin) 5.15pm
Thursday 17 August v France (UCD Bowl Dublin) 7.45pm

Ireland women’s World Cup squad in full:

Forwards: Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke/Ulster), Anna Caplice (UL Bohemian/Munster), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s College RFC/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemian/Munster), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Marie-Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster)

Backs: Louise Galvin (UL Bohemian/Munster), Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian/Munster), Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian/Munster), Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht), Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Harlequins FC), Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)

Next week (a bit late, admittedly) I’ll be previewing the Women’s Rugby World Cup as we begin the fourth major women’s tournament in three months!

Tennis

Heather Watson was knocked out in the opening round of the Citi Open in Washington this week.  She lost to world number 134, Patricia Maria Tig of Romania, 7-6 7-6.  Watson had already had to play two rounds of qualifying before proceeding to the main draw.

Meanwhile Maria Sharapova beat Jennifer Brady 6-1 4-6 6-0 in the first round of Stanford’s Bank of the West Classic on her return from injury.  However, she then withdrew before her second round clash with Lesia Tsurenko with an arm injury.

Britain’s Jordanne Whiley has revealed that she was 11 weeks pregnant when she won the Wimbledon doubles title in July.

Cricket

Just when it looked like the possibility of the men’s Ashes being cancelled was a real one, Cricket Australia has finally come to agreement with both the men’s and women’s squads over pay and conditions.

Women’s pay will rise from AU$7.5 million to $55.2 million for a five year term.  For the first time there will be one agreement to cover both male and female cricketers.  A revenue-sharing scheme will encompass all cricketers.

Impressive stuff from Cricket Australia and something other governing bodies should look at.

Lacrosse

Last week the GB lacrosse team took part in the World Games in Wrocław, Poland.  It was the first time lacrosse had featured in the Games, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) having had its application to join the International World Games Association (IWGA) accepted in 2013.

Great Britain was one of six teams to compete, finishing a creditable fourth, just missing out on bronze, losing to Australia 8-10 in the bronze medal match.

Australia were well on top, going 5-1 up early on.  They went 2-0 ahead through Abbie Burgess and Sarah Mollison.  GB then pulled one back through Ailsa Stott.

But then Australia surged ahead with scores from Rebecca Lane, Theo Kwas and Burgess again, putting them 5-1 up.

Seven minutes before half-time GB struck back, and strongly.  They hit six goals without reply to take the lead.  Claire Faram got the first and Emily Gray and Sophie Morrill scored to take GB to just 4-5 down at half-time.

Gray, Faram and Morrill all scored again within five minutes of the re-start and GB were 7-5 in front.

Australia hit back through Mollison and Courtney Hobbs to level it and then GB took the lead again through Stott with 15 minutes to go.

But Australia were not to be outdone.  Mollison hit home again followed by Hobbs and Burgess to put the game beyond the Great Britain team.

The winners of the tournaments were USA who beat Canada 11-8 to take gold.

And finally,

As you know, I’ve been trying to wean myself off the hell that is the comments section of the BBC website and the comments after BBC tweets.  I’ve been managing quite well, but I thought I’d just have a quick peak tonight at the replies to one of the tweets about England in the Women’s Euros.  I was quite heartened.  I expected to see many misogynistic “back to the kitchen” comments, but actually there was just one lone very sad man “Man Utd Fan” bleating “no-one cares”.  One.  Very.  Sad.  Individual.  Did it look pathetic when he’d got none of his equally butch mates to back him up?  It certainly did!

Women’s Sports Column 6-13 January 2017

CAYFS5MZWelcome to this week’s column.  Nearly half way through January already!  Plenty to get our teeth into this week with stories from hockey, tennis, football, cricket, rugby, winter sports and yet more awards.  This week’s “and finally” is a tricky one and I’ll leave you to form your own opinions.

Tennis

Johanna Konta has continued her good start to the season by winning the Apia International in Sydney.

She beat world number three, Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4 6-2 to take the final in straight sets.

She broke Radwanska in the third game of the match and hit 18 winners in the first set alone.  She went 4-0 up in the second and never looked like letting it slip, winning the match with an ace.

Without wishing to curse her, she looks in great form going into the Australian Open.  She has, however, got a tough opening match in the first grand slam of the year; she faces the Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the first round.

Laura Robson and Tara Moore have failed in their attempts to qualify for the Australian Open.  Both players lost in the first qualifying round.

Robson said she felt “flat” in losing in straight sets 6-2 6-4 to Amandine Hesse of France.

Moore was beaten 6-7 (7-2) 6-3 6-1 to Dalma Galfi of Hungary.

The Australian Open begins on Monday.  The top ten women’s seeds are as follows:

  1. Angelique Kerber (GER)
  2. Serena Williams (USA)
  3.  Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
  4.  Simona Halep (ROU)
  5.  Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
  6.  Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
  7.  Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)
  8.  Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
  9.  Johanna Konta (GBR)
  10.  Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP)

The date for Maria Sharapova’s comeback has been announced.  She will return at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on 26 April.

The tournament begins two days before her suspension ends and she will not be able to attend until the day of her first match.

Football

Kelly Smith

Biggest news of the week has to be the retirement from football of Arsenal and England striker Kelly Smith at the age of 38.

And what a playing career it was.  In 1999 she became Britain’s first female professional when she signed for American side New Jersey.

She won 117 England caps, scoring 46 goals.  She played in two World Cups and four European Championships.

She also had a prodigious career with Arsenal, winning five FA Cups in the process and in 2006-07 the UEFA Cup (now Champions League).

She was awarded an MBE in 2008 and was named FA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007.

For the past two seasons she has been assisting manager Pedro Martinez Losa at Arsenal.  She is studying for her coaching badges and is looking to go into coaching as soon as she can.

One thing‘s for sure, you’ll never be able to keep her out of the game and the game would indeed be poorer without her.

She Believes Cup

The schedule for this year’s cup was announced this week.  England will play on the following dates:

France – 1 March (Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, Pennsylvania)

USA – 4 March (Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey)

Germany – 7 March (RFK Stadium, Washington)

FA Cup

The FA Cup third round draw was made this week:

Blackburn Rovers v Tottenham Hotspur
Charlton Athletic v Sheffield FC
Aston Villa v Cambridge United
Millwall Lionesses v London Bees
Leicester City v Liverpool Marshall Feds
Keynsham Town v Durham
Coventry United v Oxford United
West Bromwich Albion v Lewes
Doncaster Rovers Belles v Watford
Derby County v Nottingham Forest
Brighouse Town v Everton
AFC Wimbledon v Brighton & Hove Albion

Ties will be played on 5 February.

Rugby Union

World Cup

The schedule for the World Cup, taking place in July in Ireland, has been announced.

Wednesday 9 August

UCD Bowl Dublin

England v Spain 2pm

USA v Italy 4.30pm

Ireland v Australia (7pm)

Billings Park, UCD Dublin

New Zealand v Wales 2.55pm

USA v Italy 4.30pm

Canada v Hong Kong 5.15pm

Sunday 13 August

UCD Bowl Dublin

USA v Spain 2.45pm

Ireland v Japan 5.15pm

France v Australia 7.45pm

Billings Park, UCD Dublin

New Zealand v Honk Kong 12 noon

England v Italy 2.30pm

Canada v Wales 5pm

Thursday 17 August

UCD Bowl Dublin

Italy v Spain 2.45pm

Wales v Hong Kong 17.15pm

France v Ireland 19.45pm

Billings Park, UCD Dublin

Canada v New Zealand 12 noon

England v USA 2.30pm

Australia v Japan 5pm

Tuesday 22 August

Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

Semi-finals 5pm and 7.45pm

Saturday 26 August

Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

Final 7.45pm

Women’s Premiership

Bristol lost their second game of the season at the weekend.  Their lead is now cut to one point – gained from the bonus point loss at Lichfield.  For a full report see WSUK.

8 January 2017

Saracens Women v Wasps Ladies
Postponed

Richmond 17-50 Aylesford

DMP Sharks 24-10 Worcester

Lichfield 15-12 Bristol

Winter Sports

Skiing

Lindsay Vonn is nearing her return to competition after breaking her arm nine weeks ago.

She will compete at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee in Austria on 14 January.

Over recent years Vonn has had to cope with several injuries.  She missed most of 2013 and 2014 with a knee injury.  She then fractured a knee again in February 2016.

Speed skating

Elise Christie has announced that she will not compete in the European Championships in Turin later this month.

She is going to use the extra time to prepare for the World Championships in March.

Christie won overall gold at the last European Championships and so will not be defending her title.

The European Championships begin on 13 January and the World Championships take place in Rotterdam from 10-12 March.

Cricket

The WBBL continues.  The current table is as follows:

played won lost points Net run- rate
Sydney Sixers 10 7 3 14 0.413
Hobart Hurricanes 10 5 4 11 -0.038
Melbourne Stars 10 5 5 10 0.342
Perth Scorchers 10 5 5 10 0.196
Brisbane Heat 10 5 5 10 -0.167
Sydney Thunder 10 4 5 8 -0.022
Adelaide Strikers 10 3 5 8 -0.249
Melbourne Renegades 10 4 6 7 -0.536

Indoor Hockey

The four semi-finalists of the Women’s Super 6s hockey have been decided.

Slough finished top with five wins from eight games and one loss.

Also through are Bowdon Hightown, Canterbury and Sutton Coldfield.

The finals take place on Sunday 29 January at the SSE Arena, Wembley.  Gates open at 10am and the action starts at 11am.

Outdoor Hockey

The third part of my history of women’s hockey was published by WiSP Sports this week.  You can read this and all my other pieces for WiSP here: www.wispsports.com

Laureas World Sports Awards

The Laureas shortlists were released this week.  Two female Britons made the lists:

Sportswoman of the Year award

Simone Biles (US) gymnastics, Allyson Felix (US) athletics, Angelique Kerber (Germany) tennis, Katie Ledecky (US) swimming, Elaine Thompson (Jamaica) athletics, Laura Kenny (GB) cycling.

Action Sportsperson of the Year award

Rachel Atherton (GB) mountain biking, Pedro Barros (Brazil) skateboarding, John John Florence (US) surfing, Chloe Kim (US) snowboarding, Kelly Sildaru (Estonia) freestyle skiing, Tyler Wright (Australia) surfing.

The winners, as voted for by members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, will be announced in Monaco on 14 February.

And finally,

In a survey by England Athletics, more than a third of 2,000 women surveyed said they had suffered some form of harassment when out jogging alone and more than 60% said they feel anxious while running on their own.

It has been suggested that an answer to this is to go out running in groups.  Now I see the value of this, I really do, but it’s not the answer.  There are plenty of benefits to be gained by running with others; the feeling of comradeship, someone to encourage you, making new friends, giving confidence, etc.  Women new to running would especially benefit.

England Athletics has put together a new programme called “Run Together”.  You can access the details here: www.englandatheltics.org

However, I would also point out that running in groups is not for everyone.  Some people run specifically to have time on their own.

And, of course, the real issue is that the women running should not have to change their habits due to the harassment.  Gone are the days (almost) when we say a woman was “asking for it” when they wear short skirts or drink too much.  So why is it the fault of the runner that they receive such abuse?  The harassers should surely change their attitudes and behaviour, not the runners?

I’ll leave it with you.

Apologies but there will be no column next week as I’m away.