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Women's rugby: The purer form of the game?

By Alison Donnelly

In case you missed it there was a very interesting disucssion on Radio 4s Womens Hour today on womens rugby. England captain Catherine Spencer (pictured) talked the presenter (who clearly had no clue about the actual sport) through the ins and outs of the game before BBC London rugby presenter Sarah Orchard made some great points. For those of you who are in the UK you can click here to listen to the interview but for those of you who arent I have (kindly it must be said!) transcribed the main points below. Our own blogger Meghan Mutrie is discussed at the end but Orchard and Spencer make some good points about the comparisons between the mens and the womens game and the lack of media publicity the sport gets. Worth a read especially as it's so rare to come across a journalist who has seen and knows the women's game.

Presenter Jane Garvey (JG) I have got to ask you why. I like sport but I don't get rugby. To play, its violent and to watch the ball is always out of play

Catherine Spencer (CS) For us the ball is in play a lot. I have grown up with the sport and it is a natural thing for our family. I think it is a great game of speed, agility and flair and not just the big bosh strength up front. Its a sport for many skills and talents and is very enjoyable and a sport that can be played by people of many sizes.

JG: Well thats the argument put forward when boys start playing it is that it doesnt matter whether youre a little bit short or very tall, or stocky, therell be a role for you somewhere.

CS: Yeah definitely. There could be someone who isnt great at running, or cross country but they could be the star of their rugby team, and I think thats what so brilliant about it. There is a place for everyone.

JG: So you are a number 8 which means you keep out of trouble in the scrum?

CS: I am in the scrum but Im right at the back of it. I do try and push a little bit. I have to say that in case my coach is listening.

JG: What you do mean?

CS: Well obviously you have got the front row and the backrow where I am so the same position as say Lawrence Dallaglio. You get in on the action and a bit of the fun but keep away from the stuff at the front.

JG: The stuff thats the real violence at the front is it?

CS: I guess the front row is where the biggest confrontation between the two sides occurs, but its very technical.

JG: It's to win territory isnt it? Thats what its about?

CS: A scrum is sort of a way to restart a game. Front rows can talk about it for hours and hours. Its s technical minefield I couldnt even begin to comment on it really.

JG: Sara you cover rugby but not really womens rugby because BBC doesnt really cover women's rugby does it?

Journalist Sara Orchard (SO) : They do give it coverage. Weve got the womens world cup coming up later this year so there have been lots of references made to it and were looking ahead to that - but there isnt a platform for it at the moment which is really unfortunate. The England women are one of the best sides in the world and hopefully, they are going to be the next team to win a World Cup on home soil. The BBC are very good with mens rugby you can see all of the coverage at the moment with the mens 6 Nations. Were getting better I have to say. Sky are doing very well at the moment at promoting the womens game. They are going to be broadcasting the England World Cup games which are great, but its a vicious cycle with womens team sports. You need the high profile, you need the success and the sponsors for it to be a success and then the media coverage follows,

JG: How good is the standard?

SO: Womens is a very good standard of rugby. Yes its different to the mens game.

JG: In what way?

SO: If you watch a men's game the skill levels are higher I am not going to dispute that. The thing about the men's game at the moment is that there is so much territorial kicking and in addition to that , men have been playing for so long they are almost too professional. They can almost cheat the laws every so slightly. You dont get that with womens rugby. You get a much purer version of the sport, and that is better for the spectator to watch. If you appreciate the game you will get a better game if you watch the womens game.

JG: Well that was a very passionate speech on behalf of women's rugby. We havent got a male player here to criticise it butwhen women play football, men who watch it always say, oh the goalkeepers are useless, and I have watched and they are not particularly good but does womens rugby have any obvious weaknesses.

SO: I mean yes of course the skill levels are not as high. The girls tend not to come into rugby union until around the age of 16, you would notice that in the footwork and kicking side of things, but why do we compare mens and womens sports? We dont compare mens and womens tennis so why should we in rugby union? I dont think we should compare them, they are completely different entities in their own right and they have their own enjoyment factors,

CS: Youre right we dont want to compete with the men but I think the skill levels are really high in the womens game and they are increasing every year.

JG: We can't really talk about rugby though without mentioning injuries. Who was the player? Meghan Mutrie who had a terrible injury?

CS: Meghan did when she was over in England a few years ago, and that happens in mens sport and in womens sport its a risk you take.

SO: I have to say on the story of Meghan and this is true of the mens game and the womens game, if you read Meghans story she suffered a very serious brain injury, she is still recovering and touch wood she will make a full recovery she still works with the Candian Rugby Union. And thats because she was looked after through people from rugby union and the community. So if anyone out there is listening who thinks rugby is such a dangerous sport you are well looked after and there is a lot of love for people within the sport.