2011 in review: England Women lead the way

(IRB.COM) Thursday 29 December 2011
 2011 in review: England Women lead the way
Maggie Alphonsi became the first woman to receive the prestigious Pat Marshall Memorial Award from the Rugby Union Writers' Club in its 50-year history

Women’s Rugby broke new ground during 2010 with the most successful Women’s Rugby World Cup in history and the increased profile generated by the tournament in England. The challenge for 2011 was to build on this and continue the growth of the Game around the world.

On the pitch this included a first ever IRB-sanctioned Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup, run alongside the second round of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Dubai and won by an impressive Canadian outfit, who proved too strong for England in the final, winning 26-7 to show why they will be a side to watch out for at RWC Sevens 2013 in Moscow.

Off the pitch, the International Rugby Board launched its IRB Women’s Rugby Plan, an exciting new strategic vision to drive the direction, development and growth of one of the world’s fastest growing sports over the next decade.

The IRB also held its first Accelerated High Performance Women’s Rugby workshop in London in December, the first in a series of regional workshops being attended by leading figures from the Game and global industry experts, with IRB Vice Chairman Bill Beaumont and New Zealand captain Victoria Grant among those joined by representatives from 11 Unions.

Six in a row for England

The year had begun with the RBS Women’s Six Nations, a Championship won by England for the sixth successive year and the fifth in this period with a Grand Slam. The manner of England’s victory was impressive, scoring 223 points and conceding just eight.

England kicked off their title defence with a 19-0 victory over Wales at a wet and windy Pandy Park in Cross Keys, before running riot with an 11-try, 68-5 rout of Italy at Esher, Chiara Castellarin scoring the only try the Red Roses conceded all tournament.

France provided a greater resistance in losing 16-3 before Scotland was swept aside in a record 89-0 mauling at Twickenham, England scoring 15 tries to heap more misery on a Scottish outfit who suffered a Championship to forget in collecting the wooden spoon without a win to their name under new coach Karen Findlay.

All that stood between England and another Grand Slam was Ireland in Ashbourne, but the Red Roses stormed to a 31-0 victory to send former captain Catherine Spencer into retirement in style. France would finish second, their only defeat coming at the hands of England, with Ireland leading a trio of teams on four points, finishing above Wales and Italy only on point differential.

Two wins for Italy – at home against Wales (12-8) and away to Scotland (26-0) – was their most successful campaign since they joined the Six Nations and showed their growth as they aim to qualify for WRWC 2014, having missed out for England 2010.

Nations Cup milestones

Scotland will be hoping for a much better year in 2012 after going through another Six Nations campaign without tasting victory, conceding a massive 231 points and scoring just 20 across their five matches.

While things were not going well for Scotland, south of the border there was to be even more success for England in the summer as they successfully defended their Women’s Nations Cup title in Canada.

They were truly tested, though, with only a last gasp try securing a 15-11 victory over the Women’s Eagles on the opening day. South Africa and Canada were duly beaten before a strong second half performance against the latter in the final secured the title.

England hooker Amy Garnett became her country’s first female centurion in the final, one of two notable milestones of the Nations Cup, the other being South Africa’s first ever win over one of the world’s top six nations after a 26-23 win over USA in the round robin.

The year ended, just as 2011 had, with the world’s two leading teams, England and New Zealand, coming together for a three Test series, the first of three in the build up to Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France.

New Zealand had triumphed 13-10 when the sides last met in the WRWC 2010 Final at the Twickenham Stoop, but England were favourites going into the first Test at the home of English rugby on 26 November, not least because of their superior preparation.

Series win for England

England had played 10 Tests since that Final, retaining their Women’s Six Nations and Nations Cup titles, while the world champions had played none and had not played any rugby since their National Provincial Championship ended in August.

Maggie Alphonsi, a star of the World Cup,  scored the only try of the day as England ran out 10-0 winners, a feat they repeated three days later at Esher RFC with a 21-7 win – the first time the Black Ferns had ever lost back-to-back Tests.

The series was gone, but the Black Ferns were determined to avoid a whitewash and did so with an 8-8 draw at Esher. New Zealand had their chances to win the match, but made “too many errors” in the words of captain Victoria Grant.

While New Zealand returned home knowing better preparation was key to ensuring a different outcome in next year’s series, for England coach Gary Street it was the culmination of 14 months of hard work to set the record straight after the WRWC Final loss.

“We have made huge strides over the last year,” admitted Street. “We have unearthed some fantastic talent in the last few weeks and we will move on positively. We want the Game to improve all the time and when people watch it to see a high standard of the Game. There was some great rugby played in this series.”

England, though, would not manage an unbeaten record in 2011 with the relatively young side they sent to France for a two Tests before the New Zealand series losing both (14-5 and 16-15) to a side who would also beat Italy 37-0 in November.