Gulf in standards seriously exposed at Women’s Rugby World Cup

There was less than a minute gone at the UCD Bowl when England centre Megan Jones shrugged off a poor excuse of a tackle and crossed the Spanish line for the first score of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Within three minutes, the world champions had engineered a hat-trick of clean line breaks and just five minutes had elapsed by the time Kay Wilson touched down for the second five-pointer. Not the start the tournament wanted.

You get exposed to all sorts of PR spin before these events. Each gig is hailed as bigger and better. The standards, we were assured in the run-up to this, would be higher than at any stage in the tournament’s 26-year history.

So the opening matches would tell a lot.

England met Spain last time out, in 2014, and had 40 points to spare. Add another eleven onto that and you have the measure of the chasm yesterday. And with an hour gone across campus, New Zealand looked set fair to register similar growth.

This wasn’t a case of minnows being mowed down. Wales and Spain finished eighth and ninth respectively at the last edition in France so any mushrooming annihilations here - even if they were facing the world’s first and second-ranked sides - would reflect poorly.

Up 32-0 on the hour mark, the Black Ferns added another two tries to the half-dozen already scored but they conceded a pair too. 

Honour preserved for the Welsh, then, but coach Rowland Phillips wasn’t giving out high fives after a 44-12 loss.

“That scoreboard doesn’t reflect the performance at all. To be fair, we know where they are. They are still ranked wherever they are in the world so they are one of the top sides. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times today.”

Facing third favourites Canada, later in the afternoon, the Asian qualifiers Hong Kong, a side ranked 23rd in the world, experienced the torment and, let’s be honest here, the humiliation of conceding well north of a point per minute.

The final score: 98-0.

Cricket scores aren’t the preserve of women’s rugby. The men’s global gatherings have been watered down by similar torrents but the women’s tournament has at least, mercifully, been spared the embarrassment of a three-digit score since 2002.

Progress, but of sorts.

The prospect of heavy losses is, nonetheless, a constant and the disparity in funding and playing populations between the haves and have-nots is only accentuated by the short, three-day turnarounds between games and ten-minute half-time intervals.

That last fact caught more than a few out yesterday. The queues at the various fast food outlets dotted around Belfield took an age to dissipate even after the teams had re-emerged from the sheds to get the second-halves underway.

Other realities felt odd, too.

England’s status as reigning champions relegated New Zealand to Billings Park yesterday. The venue’s second stadium.

With both sides playing for the first time since contesting a four-team series with Australia and Canada back in June, and their XVs a mix of youth and experience, rust was to be expected despite the training ground feel to it all.

England managed ten tries and three conversions, the Black Ferns eight and two. Both suffered malfunctions in the lineout and Glenn Moore, New Zealand’s head coach, was up front when asked to rate his side’s efforts out of ten.

“Aw, probably a seven? They’re things that we want to improve on.”

Our lineout has to improve a lot. Wales defended them really well.

I thought Wales did particularly well in places. I was really happy with our scrummaging, it’s come on a long way since the June series as we’ve put a lot of work into that. We scored some good tries out on the edges as well.” The Kiwis will only get better. England and Canada, too.

A worrying thought for the rest.


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