A History of Women’s Rugby Union – Part 1

rugby ball

My new history series, to be published in four parts by WiSP Sports, delves into the story behind the development of women’s rugby union.  The  first part has just been published.  Here’s the link:

http://www.wispsports.com/womens-sport-feature-articles/womens-sports-history/history-womens-rugby-union-part-1/

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Women’s Sports Column 10-16 September

img-20160915-006702Welcome to this week’s column.  Summer may be slipping away from us here in Britain, but there’s still plenty to look forward to in the world of women’s sport.

This week brings stories from the Paralympics, tennis, athletics, cricket, football, rugby union and a sailing update from Abby Ehler.

Paralympics

 Where to start?  As with the Olympics, there is so much to love, admire or indeed boggle at, that I can only cover a fraction.  So here are a few of my highlights from the last week:

Hannah Cockcroft

One of my sporting heroes, without doubt.  In Rio she has won gold in T34 400m with a world record and 100m.   And she’s still only 24!

Kadeena Cox

Wow, what a story!  To win gold in one Paralympic sport is amazing, but two in different sports?  On 10 September she took gold in the track cycling – the C4-5 time trial (and in a world record time) and then on 14 September she struck gold again, this time in the T38 400m (also a new world record).  Oh, and she also won a bronze in the T38 100m.

I know one shouldn’t refer it back to a person’s medical history and no-one should be labelled, but how can you not be amazed by this woman?  She’s 25 and suffered a stroke in 2014, leading to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.  She’s brilliant.

Canoeing

I love canoeing in all forms and Britain has done very well in this Paralympics.  Three golds in a day on 15 September with Jeanette Chippington winning the K1 200m KL1 title, 28 years after her first medal, a silver in the 100m backstroke L4 in Seoul in 1988.  Then Emma Wiggs blew the field away to take the k1 200m KL2 gold.  Thirdly Anne Dickens won gold in the KL3 200m final.  That was three golds in about half an hour!

Swimming

Numerous medals in swimming.  Seven golds and six silvers.  Bethany Firth took two golds and a silver, Hannah Russell, Steph Millward, Ellie Simmonds, Susie Rodgers, Ellie Robinson (just 15) all took golds with Claire Cashmore, Jessica-Jane Appleton, Rebecca Redfern, Steph Slater and Harriet Lee took silvers.

I’m sorry I’ve just concentrated on gold medals and silvers; every competitor has a story, a performance to be proud of and a unique experience.  Without descending into the mawkish, it’s exciting, awe-inspiring and moving.

Tennis

Germany’s Angelique Kerber went to world number one in the rankings this week when Serena Williams was knocked out of the US Open in the semi finals.  She then went on to win the title, beating the Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-3 4-6 6-4.

Kerber had already won the Australian Open in January and was runner-up at Wimbledon, but Pliskova was in a rich vein of form, having beaten Williams in the semi in straight sets 6-2 7-6.

Kerber was not to be denied though, becoming the first German to win the US Open since Steffi Graf in 1996.

The women’s doubles title was taken by twelfth seeds Bethany Mattek-Sands (US) and Lucie Safarova (CZ).  They beat the top seeded French pairing of Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic 2-6 7-6 6-4.

In other tennis news, the result of Maria Sharapova’s appeal against her two-year doping ban will be revealed in the first week of October.

Sharapova was banned by the ITF after testing positive for the banned substance, Meldonium, at the 2016 Australian Open.  She had been taking the drug since 2006, but it has only been listed as a banned substance since January this year.

Athletics

In athletics, the testing and re-testing of samples from the 2008 Olympics is still causing many medals to be re-awarded.  The latest is set to go to British javelin thrower, Goldie Sayers.  The silver medallist, Russia’s Maria Abakumova, will be disqualified after her re-test showed positive for the anabolic steroid turinabol.  Sayers, who finished fourth, will now receive a bronze medal.

Sayers has long been a critic of doping in athletics, particularly the systematic state-sponsored scheme employed by Russia.  In May 2016 she said she had considered withdrawing from the Rio games if Russian athletes were allowed to compete.

Cricket

In cricket, the ECB has announced that England’s women will complete their busy year with a three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka in November.  The three games will take place at the R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium in Colombo on Saturday 12, Tuesday 15 and Thursday 17 November.

It will be England’s last series in the ICC Women’s Championship, the qualifying tournament for the 2017 World Cup, which will be held in England.

At the moment England is placed in third on 19 points.  Sri Lanka lies eighth.

Before the series takes place, England will have a six-day training camp in Abu Dhabi from 1-7 November.

Football

England 5-0 Estonia

Carter (3), Scott, J, Carney (pen)

Meadow Lane, Nottingham

Attendance 7,052.

I was at Meadow Lane on 15 September for England’s latest qualifier.  England have already qualified for next year’s Euros, but Mark Sampson is obviously keen to send a signal to the other top teams in Europe that England will be a force to contend with next year.

The first half-hour was excellent from England.  They came out quickly and never gave Estonia a chance to gain a toe-hold, let alone a foot-hold.  There were some lovely passing moves, close control was good, as was communication.

They were 3-0 up at half time with two goals from Danielle Carter and a Jill Scott header.

Towards the end of the first half focus slipped.  Sampson will be aware that better sides would have taken advantage of this and when they came out in the second they had regained concentration.

However, the game was disrupted in the second-half with substitutions and England found it harder to put moves together.  There were too much convoluted play, and although they had plenty of chances, there was never going to be the hatful of goals that the first half promised.

They did score two though, with Carter claiming her hat-trick and Karen Carney calmly slotting home a penalty for the fifth for a comprehensive win.

Poor Siobhan Chamberlain was reduced to running on the spot to get warm.

Quite rightly, Carter was Player of the Match; her record stands at two caps, two hat-tricks, but my other stand-out player was Gemma Davison.  She flew down the right wing in the first half; her markers hadn’t got a clue how to deal with her.  With fifteen minutes to go until half-time, she had obviously had so much fun on the right that she swapped wings with Demi Stokes to cause mayhem on the left.  Truly the best half of football I have seen from Davison.

Wales 3-0 Israel

Ward (2), Estcourt

Newport

Wales put in an impressive display to beat Israel.  Wales record scorer, Helen Ward, scored two with Charlie Estcourt adding a third in the second half.  Jess Fishlock also missed a penalty.

Although Wales are third in Pool H, they cannot qualify for next year’s finals.

Sad news from football this week as it was announced that Sylvia Gore, the scorer of the first official goal for the England’s women team, has died from cancer at the age of 71.

In 1972 she scored England’s first goal in a 3-2 win against Scotland in Greenock.

Gore had a career in football that spanned over 60 years.  As a player she once scored 134 goals in a season.  After her playing career ended, she went on to become Wales manager.  She was also an FA Women’s committee member for 20 years.  Earlier this year she was unveiled as a Manchester City Women’s FC Club Ambassador.

Rugby Union

England Rugby has announced the Elite Player Squad for 2016/17 season.  As reported in an earlier column, this will be the first time England has awarded 15-a-side professional contracts.

The 54 names are split into full-time, part-time, short-term and non-contracted players.  38 contracts have so far been awarded.

The move is with the Women’s Rugby World Cup in mind, which takes place in Ireland in August 2017, where England will be looking to retain their title.

Full time contracts – 18
Claire Allan (Saracens)
Abbie Brown (Bristol)
Rachael Burford (n/a)
Amy Cokayne (Lichfield)
Heather Fisher (n/a)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens)
Natasha Hunt (Lichfield)
Megan Jones (Bristol)
Alex Matthews (Richmond)
Sarah McKenna (Saracens)
Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park)
Marlie Packer (Bristol)
Amber Reed (Bristol)
Emily Scarratt (Lichfield)
Emily Scott (Thurrock)
Danielle Waterman (Bristol)
Kay Wilson (Richmond)
Amy Wilson Hardy (Bristol)

Part time – 9
Natasha Brennan (n/a)
Lauren Cattell (Saracens)
Lotte Clapp (Saracens)
Deborah Fleming (Saracens)
Katie Mason (Bristol)
Fran Matthews (Richmond)
Kelly Smith (Worcester Valkyries)
Millie Wood (Lichfield)
Rachael Woosey (Darlington Mowden Park)

Short Term – 11
Emily Braund (Lichfield)
Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries)
Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls)
Sarah Hunter (Bristol)
Laura Keates (Worcester Valkyries)
LaToya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park)
Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield)
Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol)
Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park)
Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries)

Non Contracted – 16
Sasha Acheson (Bristol)
Zoe Aldcroft (Darlington Mowden Park)
Sarah Bern (Bristol)
Bianca Blackburn (Worcester Valkyries)
Poppy Cleall (Bristol)
Emma Croker (Richmond)
Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries)
Abby Dow (Wasps)
Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park)
Ceri Large (Worcester Valkyries)
Poppy Leitch (Bristol)
Justine Lucas (Lichfield)
Fiona Pocock (Aylesford Bulls)
Alice Richardson (n/a)
Leanne Riley (Aylesford Bulls)
Joanne Watmore (n/a)

England’s upcoming fixtures:

 Old Mutual Wealth Series:

England v France, Wednesday 9 November,The Twickenham Stoop 7.30pm

England v New Zealand, Saturday 19 November, The Twickenham Stoop 12pm

England v Canada, Saturday 26 November,Twickenham 5.05pm
Free entry after the men’s game

Also one-off:

Ireland v England, Sunday 13 November,University College Dublin 2pm
 

Sailing news from Abby Ehler

Paralympics from the British side: Helena Lucas, who became Britain’s first Paralympic sailing champion winning gold at London 2012 sailing the 2.4mR, 1-person keelboat is defending her Gold medal and currently leading the fleet, with more racing scheduled over the next few days, weather permitting.  In the 3-person Keelboat, Hannah Stodel and her team mates who have been together for 4 consecutive Games are currently placed 5th in the fleet with 5 races to go and all to play for.

In the single handed offshore racing circuit, Justine Mettraux (SUI) and Sophie Faguet (FRA) are 150 miles from their finish, having been at sea since September 10th up against gruelling conditions as they race from the Azores to France in the 15-strong fleet. The teams are expected into Douarnenez, near Brest this weekend.  Justine is currently lying in a respectable 7th place, neck and neck with 3 other competitors, so it will be a nail biting finish for the leading pack.

 

 

Women’s Sports Column 20-26 August

netball2Welcome to this week’s sports column.   The Rio Olympics may be over and we are all crying into our beer because of it, but life (and sport) goes on – plus the Paralympics are just around the corner.

So, in addition to my last few Rio highlights, we also have stories from cricket, football, indoor netball (Nets), netball, rugby union and tennis.

As regards Rio highlights, for me it’s the hockey, first and foremost.  I was pacing up and down the room for most of the second half of the final and watching through my fingers for the penalty shoot out.  Maddie Hinch!  What guts, what calm, what a player.

Nicola Adams also is on my list.  Wish she’d stop doing that thing running her hand through her hair, but a great performance from a great champion – and an amazing role model.

I’m going to come back to Simone Biles again and again, because she was so stunning.

Also Jade Jones.  Taekwondo  is a bizarre sport I’m never actually going to understand, but I know that Jade Jones is flipping good at it.  And good on Bianca Walkden for overcoming the disappointment of her semi-final to take a bronze.

From a political point of view there is a case for saying the Olympics should never have been awarded to Rio – the levels of poverty, the money spent on venues that may or may not be redundant in the coming years, and all of the problems leading up to the Games – it’s a wonder they ever took place at all.  But as a spectacle it was excellent – not sure if I’ll ever get over that green pool though……

On to other sports news..

In cricket, the inaugural Kia Super League has come and gone.  By and large it was a success, but far too short.

Finals Day took place on Sunday 21 August at Chelmsford.  As described last week, it was a slightly strange format in that only the top three teams qualified.  The second and third place teams played each other in a “semi-final” for the right to meet the Vipers, who finished top of the league, in the final.

Western Storm v Loughborough Lightning

Lightning 124/7 (20 overs)

Storm 128/5 (19.3 overs)

Storm won by 5 wickets

Lightning never looked to have enough runs on the board as they struggled to post a paltry 124 off their 20 overs.  Ellyse Perry made a sparkling 64 (she was just coming into form as the tournament ended), but there were no other significant batting contributions.  The Storm bowling was tight with Stafanie Taylor the pick of the bowlers taking 3/31 off her four overs.

In the end it was tighter than it should have been as the Storm didn’t chase too hard to reach their target.  Taylor again took the lead with 34, then Heather Knight with 52 and Fran Wilson broke the back of it.  There were a few nervous moments when Lizelle Lee (0) and Knight were out in the space of three balls, but really the result was never in doubt.

 

Southern Vipers v Western Storm

Western Storm 140/5 (20 overs)

Vipers (143/3 18.5 overs)

Vipers won by seven wickets

The final followed a similar format to that of the semi.  The Vipers won the toss and inserted the Storm.  Although they posted 140, there was a general feeling that this would not be enough.  Taylor scored 35 and Rachel Priest 57, but Knight was out for only six, and this was, in the end, the key wicket.    Fran Wilson chipped in again with an unbeaten 16.  Arran Brindle, looking rejuvenated in this tournament, took 2/15 off her four and Suzie Bates 2/37.

The Vipers never seemed phase by their chase.  Bates and Charlotte Edwards put on an opening partnership of 78 with Georgia Adams, Sara McGlashan and Lydia Greenway all contributing as they won with seven balls to spare.

In the end the title went to the best, most consistent team.  They were favourites before the competition started and never looked like being bested.

 

In other cricket news, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has voted to increase the daily allowance of the Indian women’s team to be in line with the men’s.  They will now receive $125 per day on international tours and $100 during a home series.

 

In tennis, Laura Robson is through to the third and last round of qualifying for the US Open.  World number 247, Robson, beat Su Jeong Jang of Korea 6-3 6-2 in round one and world number 142 Isabella Shinikova of Bulgaria in round two 6-4 6-4.  She will now face Tatjana Maria from Germany for a place in the first round.

Tara Moore lost in second qualifying match to Germany’s Antonia Lottner 1-6 6-3 6-2, after beating Tereza Mrdeza 6-4 6-1 in the first.

No such travails for Johanna Konta who is seeded 13 in the US Open main draw, her highest seeding to date.  Top seed is Serena Williams.

The last grand slam of the year starts on Monday 29 August.

 

I don’t mind admitting that I am a complete newcomer to the world of indoor netball, otherwise known as “Nets”.  Many of you will know I have been writing a four-part history of netball for the WiSP Sports and as I was researching the final part – netball in the 21st century, I came across the phenomenon that is Nets.

And, as it happens the Nets World Cup is taking place in New Zealand as we speak!    There is so much going on and so many categories that I haven’t got time or space to go into detail.   So can I suggest you check out the World Indoor Netball Association’s (WINA) Facebook page for all the details: https://www.facebook.com/worldindoornetballassociation/. (It’s safe to say that Australia and New Zealand will win everything).

 

The first ever (traditional) Netball Quad series begins at the end of the month and will be televised on Sky Sports.

The four teams involved are England, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and it will be held in Australia and New Zealand.

Four of the games will be shown on Sky’s new channel, Sky Sports Mix.  Part of Mix’s remit is to show more women’s sport, so watch this space to see if they come through with this promise.

Saturday 27 August

0400-0600: Live – Australia v South Africa (Sky Sports 3)

0600-0800: Live – England v New Zealand (Sky Sports 3)

 Wednesday 31 August

0800-1030: Live – South Africa v New Zealand (Sky Sports Mix)

1100-1300: Live – England v Australia (Sky Sports Mix)

 Sunday 4 September

0430-0630: Live – England v South Africa (Sky Sports Mix)

0630-0830: Live – New Zealand v Australia (Sky Sports Mix)

 

England Women U20 39-12 Canada Women U20

In the second of this three-match series in Nottingham, England ran in seven tries to emerge victorious again and give them an unassailable lead in the series.

They were 22-5 up at the break through a hat-trick of tries from Abi Dow and a fourth from Sally Stott.  Zoe Harrison kicked one conversion.

Kasselle Menin scored Canada’s only points of the half.

In the second half Poppy Leitch went over again for England and Dow scored her fourth.  Sarah Bern scored England’s seventh try with Lagilagi Tuima kicking a conversion to seal a convincing win.

Jordyn Orlando scored a consolation try for Canada.

 

In football, US goalkeeper, Hope Solo has been suspended from international football for six months as a result of her outburst after the States’ defeat to Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Olympic football tournament.

She called the Swedes a “bunch of cowards” and that the better side did not win on the day.  US Soccer President, Sunil Gulati called the comments “unacceptable”.

In reality Solo will only miss two games against Thailand and Netherlands in September, although it is possible more matches will be scheduled.  She will be eligible for selection again in February 2017.

 

And finally, Ryan Lochte’s punishment for “exaggerating” the mugging incident in Rio is apparently to be chosen to be on Dancing with the Stars (the US version of strictly Come Dancing).  This is a somewhat different punishment from the six months ban handed out to Hope Solo.  Some have made this a sexist issue, but actually I feel it may be the respective governing bodies that may be at the heart of it.

USA Swimming released a statement:

“The last five days have been difficult for our USA Swimming and United States Olympic families. While we are thankful our athletes are safe, we do not condone the lapse in judgement and conduct that led us to this point. It is not representative of what is expected as Olympians, as Americans, as swimmers and as individuals.

“That this is drawing attention away from Team USA’s incredible accomplishments in the water and by other athletes across the Olympic Games is upsetting. The athletes and their remarkable stories should be the focus.

“We’re extremely thankful of the support and efforts from the USOC, Department of State and U.S. Consulate General throughout this process. USA Swimming will undergo a thorough review of the incident and determine any further actions, per our Code of Conduct.”

So they’re certainly not in any hurry to dole out sanction, unlike US Soccer, who were very quick off the mark.  Mind you, Hope Solo has form…..

So although I’m usually the first to shout “Sexist foul!”, on this occasion I may just think twice.

No column for the next couple of weeks as I am away, but will hopefully be back on 16 September.

 

Women’s Sports Column 23-29 July

CiUasEcWsAAh-HkWelcome to this week’s column. Apologies for the lack of a column last week, but some of you may have seen I was invited to the Isle of Wight to watch the Magenta Project giving some professional female sailors the chance to sail a 32ft foiling catamaran. And most exciting it was too. Hopefully, if someone is interested enough, they will take the resulting article from me and you will all be able to read it. It’s such a great story and deserves to be spread far and wide.

Anyway, enough self promotion. This week I have stories from tennis, rugby union, football, cycling, golf, an Olympic snippet, cricket and a good-news “And finally” to send you into the weekend happy.

After her disappointing second round defeat at Wimbledon, Joanna Konta came storming back this week to win her first WTA title when she beat Venus Williams 7-5 5-7 6-2 in the Stanford Classic in California.

She looked to be cruising at 7-5 4-1, but Venus is never one to give up. She came back to win six out of the next seven games and take it to a deciding set.

Konta took the title on her third match point.

Her good form has continued into the Rogers Cup this week. She is now into the quarter finals after she beat American qualifier Vania King 7-5 6-1 in the third round and Varvara Lepchenko 6-3 6-2 in the fourth. Lepchenko beat British number three Naomi Broady in the first round, 6-4 3-6 6-3.

 

Stunning news from rugby union this week as the RFU announced that they will be awarding 48 professional contracts to England women players for the season 2016/17. After the Olympics in Rio, 16 players will be awarded full-time contracts to focus on 15-a side rugby. An additional 16 players will receive part-time contracts to focus on sevens. Then 16 short-term contracts will be awarded to allow players to attend residential camps ahead of major tournaments such as the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.

In making the announcement, RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie said,

 “The RFU is committed to supporting the growth of women’s rugby. We are immensely proud of England Women’s achievements and we want to provide the best support to continue this success.

“More women and girls in this country are playing rugby than ever before and England Women are important role models to encourage more people to try our sport.”

This is a seismic shift in the position of women’s rugby in England and will be key in the build-up to the World Cup in Ireland in 2017. Mind you, it also means that big things will be expected of the squad – if they could win the World Cup without contracts, what should they be able to do with them?

 

The Women’s Under-19s Euros have been taking place in Slovakia over the past two weeks – who knew? (and the answer to that is no-one if you just follow the mainstream sports media)

The teams into the final tournament group stage were France, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. France finished top of group A and played runners up in group B, Switzerland, in the semi-final. Spain topped group B and played Switzerland, runners up in Group A, in their semi-final.

28 July

France 3-1 Switzerland

Switzerland took the lead just before half-time through Géraldine Reuteler. But an inspired substitution from France saw replacement Clara Mateo score in the 46th minute, set up another for Marie-Antoinette Katato in the 50th and put away the third and her second in the 54th minute to secure their place in the final.

Spain 4-3 Netherlands

The other semi-final was a thriller. Netherlands took the lead twice before succumbing to a hat-trick from Spain’s star striker Sandra Hernàndez.

Suzanne Admiraal scored the first for Netherlands in the 22nd minute, but Hernàndez struck back almost immediately to make it 1-1. Netherlands then took the lead for a second time through Jill Roord, but 10 minutes later Hernàndez scored her second to level it once again. Spain then made it 3-2 through defender Marta Cazalla, with Hernàndez completing her hat-trick in the 81st minute. Michelle Hendriks got a third for Netherlands, but it was nothing more than a consolation and Spain had booked their place in Sunday’s final.

The final is on Sunday 31 July. There is an excellent UEFA website dedicated to this tournament. If you would like to read more about it, here’s the link: http://www.uefa.com/womensunder19/

 

In the FAWSL Manchester City are looking more and more unbeatable. They demolished Notts County at Meadow Lane 5-1 to maintain their unbeaten record with 23 points from nine games – seven wins and two draws.

Notts County Ladies 1-5 Manchester City Women

City took the lead after just five minutes through Jane Ross. On 25 minutes Jill Scott doubled the lead with a header. It was 4-0 at half-time when Ross scored a second on 41 and in injury time Georgia Stanway made it four. After half time, County pulled one back through a penalty, scored by Jess Clarke, but it was not to be the start of a comeback and Izzy Christiansen scored City’s fifth to inflict County’s worst defeat in the Women’s Super League.

Chelsea Ladies 4-0 Doncaster Rovers Belles

Still no joy for the Belles as Chelsea ran out comfortable winners at Staines Town. Eni Aluko scored the first after 13 minutes, but this was the only goal in the first half and Doncaster must have gone in at the break with hope. However, they were unable to penetrate in the second half and Chelsea doubled their lead in the 68th minute through Ji So-Yun. Aluko got her second with seven minutes to go, and Beth England completed the rout in the 89th. Belles are still winless, and indeed pointless, after six games.

Sunderland AFC Ladies 0-4 Arsenal Ladies

Early goals seem to be key to success, if this week’s results are anything to go by. Arsenal struck in the 10th minute through Vicky Losada. Jordan Nobbs made it two with a stunning strike on 24 after a fine passing move with Dan Carter at the heart of it. After the break, Carter herself grabbed a goal and Fara Williams the fourth for Arsenal from the penalty spot in the 53rd minute, after missing another penalty earlier in the game.

Reading FC Women1-1 Birmingham City Ladies

Reading were denied their first Super League win by German international, Isabelle Linden, who scored her first goal in English football on Sunday. Melissa Fletcher put the home side in front with a header early in the second half. Birmingham’s equaliser came on the 73rd minute and the points were shared.

Sunday 24 July 2016

FA WSL 2

Yeovil Town Ladies FC 4-0 Durham Women FC
Oxford United Women 0-1 Everton Ladies FC
Sheffield FC Ladies 2-2 Millwall Lionesses
Watford Ladies FC 0-2 Aston Villa Ladies FC

Saturday 23 July 2016

FA WSL 2

Bristol City Women 3-0 London Bees

 

The International Crown golf tournament was won by United States this week. This biennial competition, played in even-numbered years, is contested by eight countries determined by the World Ranking of the top four players from each country. Countries must have a minimum of four ranked players to be eligible. The top four ranked players from each qualifying country should make up their team, but if a player chooses not to or is unable to play, their place should be taken by the next ranking player.

The competition takes place over four days. It comprises three days of four-ball rounds and one of singles. After the four-balls, the bottom three countries are eliminated.

The eight countries finished in the following order: USA, Korea, England, Chinese Taipei, Japan, China, Thailand and Australia. The last three on this were eliminated after the four-balls.

England led after the first round of four-balls, but couldn’t maintain their good form. USA finished the tournament on 13 points, with Korea second on 12. England and Chinese Taipei tied for third on 11. The England team was made up of Charley Hull, Melissa Reid, Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Holly Clyburn.

 

It’s the Women’s British Open at Woburn this week and it’s good to see it on terrestrial TV. Check it out on BBC2 if you get the chance.

After the first round the leaderboard is as follows:

10 M Lee (Kor); -7 A Jutanugarn (Tha); -6 S Feng (Chn); -5 S Lewis (US), MH Lee (Kor)

Selected others:

-3 C Hull (Eng); -2 C Matthew (Sco), B Law (Eng); -1 JE Shadoff (Eng); +1 C Woods (US), L Young (Eng); +2 L Davies (Eng), L Ko (NZ)

South Korea’s Mirim Lee made a storming start with a course-record 10 under 62. She is already three shots ahead of Ariya Jutanugam of Thailand with Shanshan Feng a further stroke behind in third. England’s Charley Hull, playing on her home course, had a steady start and is currently tied 11th on three under par.

 

In cycling, the 89km-long La Course took place on Sunday in Paris. Australian Chloe Hosking sprinted away down the Champs Élysées to win with Finland’s Lotta Lepisto in second and Marianne Vos third.

The 13-lap race included several crashes, one of which involved Hosking’s Wiggle High5 teammate, Briton Dani King.

An interesting Olympic snippet has emerged this week. For the first time, the Australian team will have more men than women competing. It was a close-run thing, but the late expulsion of the Russian women’s rowing eight meant that the Australian squad was called-up as replacement.

The team now comprises 212 women and 207 men.

“It’s a very strong statement that shows women’s sport is genuine sport,” said Australian Olympic team boss Kitty Chiller.

“It’s about time the female athletes were given the credit, recognition and accolades they so richly deserve.”

I think we all agree with that, don’t we?

 

I wouldn’t be doing my cricket-promoting-loving job if I didn’t give one more plug to the Kia Super League, which starts on Saturday. The ECB has been on overdrive over the last fortnight, getting the women on TV, radio and in print wherever they can. Pity it hasn’t been a bit more of a consistent build-up to keep people thinking about it, but there we go. I’m hoping it’s not panic on the ECB’s behalf – I haven’t heard anything about ticket sales.

My WSUK colleague Simon Cafferty and I have previewed the six teams for WSUK; here’s the link http://www.womenssportsuk.com/cricket/.

It’s no secret that I’m backing my local team, Loughborough Lightning, for the title (which has probably put the mockers on them). I would encourage my readers to get out and see a game if they can. It’s not on television (scandal, no room to talk about that here), but there are several matches on Test Match Special on 5Live Sports Xtra.

Here are the fixtures again:

Sat 30 Jul Yorkshire Diamonds v Loughborough Lightning (Headingley 14.30)

Sun 31 Jul Southern Vipers v Surrey Stars (Ageas Bowl 14.00)

Sun 31 Jul Western Storm v Lancashire Thunder (Taunton 14.30)

Wed 3 Aug Loughborough Lightning v Lancashire Thunder (Haslegrave 16.30)

Thurs 4 Aug Surrey Stars v Yorkshire Diamonds (Kia Oval 18.30pm)

Fri 5 Aug Lancashire Thunder v Southern Vipers (Stanley Park, Blackpool 14.30)

Fri 5 Aug Loughborough Lightning v Western Storm (Haslegrave 16.30)

Sun 7 Aug Western Storm v Surrey Stars (Bristol 14.30pm)

Mon 8 Aug Southern Vipers v Yorkshire Diamonds (Ageas Bowl 14.00)

Tues 9 Aug Surrey Stars v Lancashire Thunder (Guildford 14.30pm)

Fri 12 Aug Loughborough Lightning v Surrey Stars (Haslegrave 16.30pm)

Fri 12 Aug Western Storm v Southern Vipers (Taunton 17.00)

Fri 12 Aug Lancashire Thunder v Yorkshire Diamonds (Old Trafford 18.00)

Sun 14 Southern Vipers v Loughborough Lightning (Ageas Bowl 14.00)

Sun 14 Yorkshire Diamonds v Western Storm (Headingley 14.30)

 

Finals day is Sunday 21 August at the Essex County Ground, Chelmsford.

 

And finally, doctors gave her just a 1% chance of survival following a motorbike accident in Vietnam, but now Scottish judoka Stephanie Inglis is going home.

In the accident she suffered two neck fractures and a serious head injury. Whilst in hospital she contracted infections including pneumonia and septicaemia. She’s had deep vein thrombosis and was also unable to talk after undergoing a tracheotomy.

She has been in Edinburgh hospital for six weeks, but now returns to Inverness to continue her recovery.

A crowdfunding campaign, set up by her judo teammate and friend Khalid Ghelan, raised over £304,000 to help pay for her treatment in Bangkok.

She obviously has a fearsome amount of determination;

“My physio is helping me improve every day, I’m feeling much more confident on my feet plus I have an occupational therapist and a speech and language therapist, so I think my speech is back to normal.”

What can I say that won’t sound trite or insincere? Inspirational, humbling: definitely. And with that kind of drive and courage, who’s to say she can’t return to the top? A great way to end this week’s column.

Women’s Sports Column 9-15 July

standard-pitch-dimensionsIt’s column time again – gosh this week has gone quickly. I’d like to say it will be an island of sense in this sea of world chaos, but I think I might just be guilty of over-selling it….

Anyway, this week we have stories from athletics, tennis, football, golf, cricket, gymnastics, rugby union (missed from last week) and a happy story for “And finally”.

Obviously the selections are being made for Rio at the moment. Apologies if I don’t get everyone in here, but it’s pretty well publicised news that can be picked up in the mainstream press (is it possible?).

A couple of athletics stories should be mentioned, though. After I reported Jo Pavey had achieved the qualifying time for the 10,0000m last week, she has indeed been picked for Rio.

On the other side of the coin is high jumper Isobel Pooley. She will miss the Olympics due to an ankle injury. She could compete, but has been told that it would be unwise to do so as it would make the injury worse, so she has pulled out. Pooley may well have been a medal contender.

Britain also had a good final day of the European Championships with the women’s 4 x 400m winning gold with the fastest time in the world this year. France were second and Italy, third.

The four; Emily Diamond, Anyika Onuora, Eilidh Doyle and Seren Bundy-Davies took the title in a time of 3:25.05 seconds.

The full women’s athletics squad for Rio is as follows:

100m: Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Daryll Neita. 200m: Dina Asher-Smith, Jodie Williams. 400m: Christine Ohuruogu, Emily Diamond, Seren Bundy-Davies. 800m:Lynsey Sharp, Shelayna Oskan-Clarke. 1,500m: Laura Muir, Laura Weightman.5,000m: Eilish McColgan, Stephanie Twell, Laura Whittle. 10,000m: Jo Pavey, Beth Potter, Jessica Andrews. 3,000m steeplechase: Lennie Waite. 100m hurdles: Tiffany Porter, Cindy Ofili. 400m hurdles: Eilidh Doyle. High jump: Morgan Lake. Pole vault:Holly Bradshaw. Long jump: Lorraine Ugen, Shara Proctor, Jazmin Sawyers.Hammer throw: Sophie Hitchon. Discus throw: Jade Lally. Heptathlon: Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Jessica Ennis-Hill. Marathon: Sonia Samuels, Alyson Dixon.

Relays: 4x100m: Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Daryll Neita, Dina Asher-Smith, Bianca Williams, Ashleigh Nelson, Louise Bloor. 4x400m: Christine Ohuruogu, Emily Diamond, Seren Bundy-

It was a stunning end to Wimbledon last weekend. Serena Williams was an absolute vision of sporting prowess as she blasted Angelique Kerber off the court to win 7-5 6-3 in the singles final. It was her 22nd grand slam victory, bringing her level with Steffi Graf.

Later on in the day on Saturday she still had enough passion and puff to win the doubles with sister Venus. They beat fifth seeds Babos and Shvedova 6-3 6-4.

Heather Watson made up for her disappointment in the singles by taking the mixed doubles title with partner Henri Kontinen from Finland. They beat fifteenth seeds Farah and Groenefeld 7-6 6-4. They had never even played together before the championships began.

As I reported last week, it was the first time there had been wheelchair singles at Wimbledon. Top seed Jiske Griffioen of Netherlands took the title against compatriot Aniek Van Koot, who had beaten British favourite Jordanne Whiley in the semi-final, 4-6 6-0 6-4.

Whiley did take the wheelchair doubles title with her partner and best mate Yui Kamiji from Japan. The top seeds beat second seeds Griffioen and Van Koot 6-2 6-2.

The girls’ singles was won by Anastasia Potapova of Russia beating of Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine 6-4 6-3 and the girls’ doubles champions were Usue Arconada and Claire Liu of USA, who beat Caty McNally (USA) and Mariam Bolkvadze (Georgia) 6-2 6-3.

In other tennis news, it has been confirmed that Maria Sharapova will miss the Olympics as the verdict of her appeal will not be known until September.

 

Big news from English football this week.  It has been announced that from the season 2017-18, the FAWSL will become a winter league instead of a summer league. It will be played from September to May. This brings it in line with other European divisions.

It’s a big, bold decision – part of the thinking behind a summer league is that it will attract fans who are missing the men’s game during the summer. But it is good to know that the FA thinks the women’s game can stand on its own and that attendances will stay as they are or even improve.

A one-off competition, the FAWSL Spring Series will take place from February to June 2017, alongside the FA Cup, to transition from one schedule to the other. This will also benefit the England team as they prepare for the European Championships which take plce in Netherlands in July/August 2017.

There will also be a winter break in the 2017-18 season from mid-December to mid- January.

Whatever happens, the current situation could not have continued. The summer schedule was bitty at best, with four weeks sometimes between games. This is just not acceptable to England’s top clubs who want to be competitive in Europe.

 

Results from FAWSL1:

Saturday 9 July

Liverpool Ladies FC 2-0 Reading FC Women
Harding 17’
Coombs 24’

Sunderland AFC Ladies 4-0 Doncaster Rovers Belles
Mead 34’, 45+3’
Sharp 39’
Chaplen 78’

Sunday 10 July

Arsenal Ladies FC 2-0 Notts County Ladies FC
Van de Donk 10’
Dobbs 56’

Chelsea Ladies FC 1- 1 Birmingham City Ladies
Aluko 52’
Ayisi 48’

Also some news which is, on the face of it, comical, but actually is another one of those occasions when you think about it and say, “it would never have happened if it were a men’s game.”

Last week a game between Western New York Flash and Seattle Reign in the NWSL had to be moved due a scheduling clash. It was moved to the outfield f a nearby baseball stadium. Consequently a pitch was marked out that was barely big enough for children to play on.

Two problems with this: a) why was a music festival scheduled in the Sahlen’s Stadium – surely they knew there was a game on? And b) what on earth went on to mark out such a ridiculous pitch?

Needless to say the players and coaches were not happy. The Reign coach, Laura Harvey said,

“for any players/staff to be put in a position like we were tonight is not acceptable”.

Jeff Blush of the NWSL made this statement:

“the field dimensions were not up to our standards, but due to various factors, the league office made the decision to grant an exception for this evening’s match. In retrospect, we made the wrong decision.”

Do you think?

 

Talking of farce, another situation occurred at the US Women’s Open last week. Brittany Lang won the title, but only after Anna Nordqvist was given a two-stroke penalty during the play-off for grounding her club.

Sounds logical? Yes, but the penalty occurred in the second hole of a three hole play-off but the players were not informed until they were on the final hole. Lang made a par on the final hole, while Nordqvist only made bogey and lost by three strokes.

Nordqvist was quite laid-back about it considering she was only told about the penalty after she had played her third shot on the last. She said she didn’t know if it would have made any difference to the eventual outcome, but she certainly would have been more aggressive on the last if she had known she had two shots to make up.

Again, you have to say, would this have happened if it had been between Jordan Spieth and Rory McIroy?

 

Two pieces of cricket news this week. Firstly, Cricket Australia has announced that it is to invest $4 million in grassroots women’s cricket.

The money, “Growning Cricket for Girls”, will go to better coaching facilities and improving the cricketing pathway for 11-18 year olds. $1 million per year for four years will go into local associations, clubs and secondary schools. Of this, $50,000 will go towards employing full-time female participation specialists.

Secondly, Scottish Wildcats have qualified for the ICC Global Qualifier to get into the World Cup. They have take an unassailable 2-0 lead against Netherlands Women.

Both games were decided by the Duckworth/Lewis method due to rain.

In the first, Scotland posted 218/5 off their 50 overs. Netherlands were set a revised target of 161 in 26 overs, but fell short on 133/7, losing the game by 27 runs.

In the second, Scotland batted first again, posting 222/9 off their 50. Rain intervened again and Netherlands were set 178 in 37 overs. They fell short again, ending on 169/6 and losing by 8 runs.

Scotland now goes forward to the ICC Global WCWC Qualifier in 2017.

 

So it’s good news for Australian cricketers, but not so for its gymnasts. The Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) has announced that it is shutting its Women’s Artistic Gymnastics National Centre of Excellence in Perth at the end of 2016.

Needless to say the closure is largely due to funding issues, but Gymnastics Australia has denounced the decision in a public statement:

“On the eve of the Olympics, women’s sport in Australia has been dealt a huge blow by today’s shock revelation that one of the nation’s premier training centres for elite gymnasts is to close,”

GA’s President, Jacqui Briggs-Weatherill went on to say,

“This is a very cruel and short-sighted decision by WAIS that if not reversed will end the Olympic ambitions of many young women in one of Australia’s fastest growing sports.”

 

For the last couple of weeks the Women’s Rugby Super Series has been taking place in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Didn’t see it in the mainstream media even though England’s women are currently World Champions? No, neither did I and, to my eternal shame, I missed reporting on it last week. Anyway, to make amends, here are the details:

The tournament took place between USA, Canada, France and England.

England were dealt a shocking and bitter blow in the first game on 1 July as they were beaten 52-17 by Canada. They recovered to beat France 17-13 on 5 July and then beat USA comfortably 39-13. This match included an impressive hat-trick of tries from winger Lydia Thompson.

Canada were the eventual winners of the tournament, unbeaten in their three matches. England finished second with two wins, France third with one and USA fourth having lost all of their matches. England will take heart from their comeback, having fallen to such a disastrous defeat in the first game.

 

And finally, this great story pinged into my inbox this week – I don’t know how many of you will have seen it already, but it bears re-telling. Manar Sarhan, a dentist from Cairo, has become Egypt’s first female football pundit. She appears on the private CBC television channel and has recently been commenting on Euro 2016 matches.

She started volunteering in journalism in 2002, filming her favourite Egyptian club Zamalek. She then wrote for several newspapers before being discovered by the CBC channel.

Unsurprisingly the reaction was mixed. She says:

“I was mocked in the beginning. They would tell me ‘Girls belong in kitchens’,” (I think we’ve all heard that one)

But Sarhan is not one to give up. She is now acknowledged as an expert on the subject;- her analysis of tactics and team plans is regarded as impressive.

She has learnt Spanish so that she can follow La Liga and also intends to learn Italian and Portuguese to be able to follow more European football.

Her ultimate aim is to work in European football. Go get it, I say!

Women’s Sports Column 16-22 April

ecclestone2I’m back. And not a moment too soon, by the looks of it. So much to go through, both good and bad.

This week’s stories come from snowboarding, cycling, tennis, rugby union, cricket, football, sailing, netball and Formula 1.

Let’s start with the worst –Swiss snowboard champion, 21-year old Estelle Balet, was killed this week in an avalanche. She had been filming above Orsieres, a village in the Swiss Alps when the accident happened.

In 2015 Balet became the youngest champion of the Freeride World Tour. She won it again earlier this year.

 

Bad news for cyclist Jess Varnish this week as she has been dropped from British Cycling’s Olympic progamme.

She and Victoria Pendleton broke the team sprint world record in qualifying at London 2012, but now it appears her track career could be over.

Varnish had been critical of governing body, British Cycling:

“We have been basically playing catch-up for two years after decisions that were [made] above us, and bad luck.”

But she and Katy Marchant finished only fifth in the World Championships last month and Varnish has failed to qualify for Rio.

Performance Director of British Cycling, Shane Sutton insists that the decision not to renew her contract was made purely on performance grounds and has nothing to do with her criticism of the governing body.

“Since her gold medal at the London World Cup in 2012, Jess had not made the necessary gains in performance compared to the rest of the world,” he said.

 

Bad news also for British tennis this week as Laura Robson lost in qualifying for the WTA event in Stuttgart. Robson won her first qualifier against Klara Koukalova, but lost to Oceane Dodin, 6-2 6-2 in the second. Robson will use her protected ranking of 58 to enter the French Open in May.

British number one and world 22, Johanna Konta, lost in the first round proper of the same event. She lost in straight sets 6-3 6-3 to Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam.

 

Great news from rugby union this week as England beat New Zealand to win the fourth World Sevens Series event in Canada on 18 April. England have been getting better throughout the tournament and although Australia have won the first three events of the series, England were obviously determined not to see them win a fourth.

They beat Australia in the semi-finals and went on to beat New Zealand 31-14 in the final to claim the win.

Australia look to have an unassailable lead overall with one event to go. They stand on 76 points, with New Zealand in second on 64 and England a further 16 points behind on 48. Even if New Zealand win the last event, Australia would have to finish eighth or lower not to win the title.

The final tournament takes place in France, in Clermont-Ferrand, on 28-29 May.

 

The second tranche (one should never turn down the chance to use the word “tranche”) of Kia Super League signings has been announced. The overseas signings are as follows:

Lancashire Thunder: Deandra Dottin (WI), Sarah Coyte (AUS), Hayley Matthews (WI)

Loughborough Lightning: Ellyse Perry (AUS), Sophie Devine (NZ), Dane van Niekerk (SA)

Southern Vipers: Suzie Bates (NZ), Sara McGlashan (NZ), Megan Schutt (AUS)

Surrey Stars: Meg Lanning (AUS), Marizanne Kapp (SA), Rene Farrell (AUS)

Western Storm: Stafanie Taylor (WI), Rachel Priest (NZ), Lizelle Lee (SA)

Yorkshire Diamonds: Shabnim Ismail (SA), Beth Mooney (AUS), Alex Blackwell (AUS)

There was some furore as the BCCI (Indian Cricket Board) asked why their top players hadn’t been invited, but the ECB replied that they had and the BCCI hadn’t put anyone forward.

In other domestic cricket news, England international Jenny Gunn has left Nottinghamshire to join Warwickshire. Nottinghamshire were relegated at the end of last season.

 

The FA Cup semi-finals were played last weekend and produced contrasting matches.

Arsenal 7-0 Sunderland

Both teams ended up with ten players in a one-sided semi-final.   Arsenal were down to ten on the 33rd minute when Emma Mitchell was sent off after collecting a second yellow card, but it didn’t seem to impede them.

Danielle van de Donk scored a hat-trick with Dan Carter scoring two and another from Jordan Nobbs.

Sunderland also went down to ten when Abby Holmes was sent off in the 72nd minute for a foul in the box with Fara Williams scoring from the resultant penalty.

Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City (AET)

It was altogether closer in the second semi with very little to choose between two top-class teams.

After a goalless first half, City went ahead through a close-range Jane Ross shot.

Ji So-Yun curled a free-kick in to equalise and the tie went to extra time.

Chelsea seemed to take control in extra time but it wasn’t until the 120th minute that Fran Kirby popped up to snatch victory for the Blues.

The FA Cup final will be at Wembley on 14 May. If you haven’t been to Wembley because you don’t fancy the aggressive atmosphere of a men’s game, may I suggest you give this event a try? I was there last year and it was brilliant. Just being there you feel like you’re a part of women’s footballing history.   If you can’t get there, it will be live on the BBC.

In other football news, Doncaster Rovers Belles striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk suffered a broken leg in a friendly game this week and will be out of action for some time.

 

The latest round of Vitality Netball Superleague games produced the following results:

16 April

Celtic Dragons 44-45 Yorkshire Jets

This was the Jets’ first win of the season.

Hertfordshire Mavericks 54-55 Team Bath

Surrey Storm 56-64 Manchester Thunder

The table looks as follows:

Played Points
1 Manchester Thunder 13 36
2 Hertfordshire Mavericks 12 30
3 Surrey Storm 13 27
4 Team Bath 13 27
5 Loughborough Lightning 13 18
6 Team Northumbria 13 9
7 Celtic Dragons 13 6
8 Yorkshire Jets 14 3

 

Good news from British sailing this week as British sailor Alison Young won gold in the Laser Radial class at the World Championships in Mexico. In doing so she became the first British world champion in a solo Olympic dinghy class.

Young beat America’s Paige Railey by just one point as she won the 13th and final race to claim the title.

After finishing 5th at London 2012, she will be hoping to take confidence from this win to Rio later on this year.

In an interview with Sky Young said,

“There’s still plenty of room for improvement and I know that come the Games there’s going to be seven or eight girls battling it.”

 

And finally, the prize for complete idiot of the week goes, not for the first time, to head of Formula 1, Bernie Ecclestone. In an interview at the Advertising Week European conference he said that women drivers would “not be taken seriously” in Formula 1 and that they are not “not physically” able to drive fast. This old, old argument has been disproved so many times I surely don’t have to go into it here, but the main reason that women aren’t taken seriously is because the sport is intrinsically sexist and has a misogynist dinosaur running it.

I, for one, can’t wait until he is ousted from his position and then hopefully women can move forward in Formula 1 as they already are doing in other branches of motorsport.

By the way, in the same interview he also said President Putin “should be running Europe” and expressed his admiration for Donald Trump. Need I say more? I don’t think so…..

Women’s Sports Column

netball223 – 29 January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first week of fixtures looks like this:

Wednesday 23 March

FA WSL 1

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

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

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

FA WSL 2

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

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

19:45 London Bees v Watford Ladies FC
The Hive

Sunday 27 March 2016

FA WSL 2

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

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

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

Monday 28 March 2016

FA WSL 1

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

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

FA WSL 2

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

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

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

The first weekend’s fixtures are:

Friday 5 February

18:00 Scotland Women v England Women
Broadwood Stadium

Saturday 6 February

13:00 Ireland Women v Wales Women
Donnybrook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s Sports Column

8-15 January

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

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

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

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

They are:

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

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

Loughborough University

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

Surrey County Cricket Club

Yorkshire County Cricket Club

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

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

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

Coach, Mark Sampson is keen to take part:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Results and news in next week’s column.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ladyball

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

Women’s Sports Column

Dartboard

2-8 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

This is the schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The semi-final line-up is:

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

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

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