New Zealand edge England to Women’s Rugby World Cup Title; Wales finish seventh with victory over Ireland

The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup has been absolutely phenomenal, and the tournament reached a riveting conclusion this weekend with a pulsating final between holders England, and title rivals New Zealand.

A see-saw contest saw the Black Ferns take an early 5-0 lead, before two quick-fire tries seemingly saw England take control while New Zealand were down to 14 women.

A nervy second half yielded further tries for New Zealand through the forwards, with outstanding prop-forward Toka Natua notching up a hat-trick. England defended heroically through the likes of Emily Scarratt and outstanding centre Megan Jones, and even had Izzy Noel-Smith score a late try, but it was to be New Zealand’s night. Final Score: New Zealand 41 – 32 England

Earlier in the night, Wales put a disappointing championship behind them, beating hosts Ireland 27-17 to secure seventh place in this tournament and, crucially, automatic qualification to the next World Cup in four year’s time. Captain Carys Phillips and outstanding flanker Sioned Harries were among Wales’ try scorers. Harries has really caught my eye across the tournament with some deft handling and physical defending. She also certainly has an eye for the try line.

I am a huge fan of women’s rugby, and I have to say, this tournament has been a quite wonderful showcase for the sport. The support has been truly immense.

In a post match interview on Saturday, England fly-half Katy Mclean told BBC Sport how important it is that women’s rugby now “kicks on” after the success of this tournament:

“I just think we need more coverage.
“The support has been sensational but we have really got to start making sure we aren’t saying in 2021 ‘was this the one?’
“Let’s make it now, and let’s make a difference.”

I have felt for some time that women’s rugby is something of a sleeping giant, and I couldn’t agree more with Mclean’s sentiments here. WRWC2017 has been enthralling, exciting and immensely entertaining. The pace, passion and raw aggression of the final spoke volumes of the sport. Now we need to make sure the women’s game gets even more coverage in order to unlock its true potential.

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An Interview with Kim Boreham, Director of Womens Rugby for Hong Kong Rugby Union

As the Womens Rugby World Cup 2017 exploded into life this week, I had the great pleasure to ask a few questions to Kim Boreham, who is Director of Women’s Rugby for Hong Kong Rugby Union. This is Hong Kong’s first appearance at the tournament – they beat Fiji to guarantee qualification – and they will face Wales in the final round of Pool A games on Thursday. We discussed the view from the Hong Kong camp leading into the tournament, as well as the world-wide growth of the women’s game, and the success and increasing popularity of the sport in Asia.

Congratulations to Hong Kong women on qualifying for their first World Cup. What a brilliant achievement, and an important milestone. What is the feeling amongst the squad ahead of their first appearance at the tournament?

Thank you. Qualifying for the tournament was a huge milestone for Hong Kong Women and Hong Kong Rugby as this is the first national team to qualify for a Rugby World Cup in XVs. The squad is determined to make the most of this incredible opportunity to play on the world stage. The squad have enjoyed their first few days in Ireland, are excited to finally make their first appearance and focussed on their first game against Canada.

How have preparations gone for the World Cup?

It has been a slow and steady build up over the last 8 months. In the last 2 months, Hong Kong played a training and test match against Spain and played Japan twice in the Asian Rugby Championship, which was an important part of our preparations. While the score lines were not in our favour the matches were invaluable for helping our coaching team try out different combinations and narrow down the final squad.

Are there any new, or surprise, inclusions in the Hong Kong squad? Who are the ones to watch in the team, likely to set the tournament alight?

A late inclusion to the team was our youngest player, Kelsey Bouttle, 18, who was only called into the training squad around 3 months ago.  Players to watch include the two wings Poon Pak Yan and Chong Ka Yan and centre, Natasha Olson Thorne.

What do you make of Hong Kong’s group opponents? Who are you most looking forward to facing?

It is a daunting pool but if you are coming to the World Cup you want the chance to play some of the best teams in the world.  This will be the first time that Hong Kong plays Canada, NZ and Wales so we are looking forward to each of these games for different reasons.

Aside from obviously lifting the trophy, what will HKRU hope to achieve from the women’s team’s first world cup appearance?

We hope to raise the profile of women’s rugby within Hong Kong and Asia and showcase the kind of opportunities that rugby can bring you. Not just in terms of playing on the world stage against the best teams in the world. We want to highlight the hard work, strength and determination of our players as well as the team spirit, inclusion, camaraderie and fun that rugby has to offer.

In the last four years, I feel the women’s game has quite rightly gone from strength to strength and is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. I think the women’s sevens tournament at the Rio Olympics last year, in particular, put the spotlight on women’s rugby and captured lots of people’s imaginations. What do you think are some of the next steps in growing the women’s game even further?

Agreed. I think this years Women’s Rugby World Cup will also help showcase and highlight the strength of the women’s XVs at the top level. The Olympics have certainly helped galvanise interest in rugby for young girls around the world.  Some of the next steps in growing the women’s game further would be to better promote and develop the girls and women’s game, at grassroots level particularly in non traditional rugby countries to bring greater awareness of the sport and its benefits to girls. There is some great work being done already within Asia on this but as always there is more work to be done. Try to increase number and support for international competitions  and test matches including across regions – the statistics about the number of tests played by some of the women’s teams in the WRWC make for some interesting reading.  It is important that development of the VIIs and XVs game for women’s rugby proceed concurrently and not be seen as a choice of one or the other – allocation of resources may vary at times but growth and development of both games should be supported.

How exciting is it to be involved with rugby in Asia at the moment? I’m so pleased to see the game blossoming in the region at present. Japan’s victory over South Africa at RWC 2015 was a huge moment. Japan came close to beating Wales in Cardiff in November, too, and of course they will be hosting the next world cup.

Very exciting.  Japan is a great example of the growth and development of rugby in Asia both in the men’s and women’s game over the last 20 years. The fact they are hosting the World Cup will be a huge boost for the game in Asia.

Finally, I’d like to wish you and everyone involved with Hong Kong women’s team all the very best for the world cup!

Cheers!

*

Thank you so much for answering a few questions for my blog, Kim! I also wasn’t previously aware of the Welsh contingent involved with Hong Kong Rugby Union, with Dai Rees, Leigh Jones and Paul John all currently involved with managing and coaching the National teams.

Here’s wishing Hong Kong all the best in their next match, against New Zealand this afternoon, and indeed for the rest of the tournament!

You can watch live coverage of Wales v Hong Kong on Thursday 17th August at 5:15pm on ITV4.

 

Excitement Builds ahead of WRWC2017

The Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 kicks off in Ireland tomorrow, and with twelve nations battling it out for the title, sell-out crowds and more TV and media coverage than ever before, the eighth edition of the tournament has all the ingredients to be the biggest and best yet.

Three groups of four teams will first contest the pool stages, and here’s how the draw is looking:

Pool A

Canada, Hong Kong, Wales, New Zealand

Pool B

England, Italy, Spain, USA

Pool C

Australia, Ireland, France, Japan

World Rugby advances leadership at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017

England begin their title defence as tournament favourites, having beaten the mighty New Zealand away from home in June, although the Black Ferns will, as always, be a formidable force, and will be looking to climb back to the summit of the world rankings in the next three weeks. Expect a strong-looking Canada to be right in the mix come the business end of the tournament, too.

Wales find themselves in arguably the toughest and most physical pool, facing New Zealand in their opening round tomorrow afternoon, as well as Canada and Hong Kong. Wales Coach Roland Phillips, and daughter and Wales Captain Carys Phillips, are excited and upbeat about the coming three weeks, describing their pool draw as a “pool of opportunity”, and will be aiming to approach the group stages with “control and chaos”.

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The tournament is a huge milestone for Hong Kong, the first time the region has qualified for a major 15s tournament, and they will undoubtedly relish the challenge ahead in a very tough group.

Ireland will also fancy themselves to go the distance this year in front of their home crowd, in what will be a real festival of attacking rugby.

Here’s wishing Wales all the best in their opening game against New Zealand tomorrow.

 

The New-Look Pro14: Reaction from the Welsh Regions and beyond

Tuesday’s announcement about the expansion of the old Guinness Pro 12 has been largely met with approval from fans, coaches and players alike. For many, the prospect of facing The Cheetahs and Southern Kings from South Africa represents a much-needed shot in the arm for the league, as well as increasing the profile of the tournament, and generating much needed financial investment in the competition.

The ambitious move to include two southern-hemisphere teams for the European season represents brand new territory for the sport. Early reports suggest expansion won’t stop here; teams in Canada and USA are being tipped to join as early as the 2018/19 season, with other rumours pointing to the likes of Georgia, Romania and Germany as growing rugby markets with huge future potential.

I’m pleased to say I believe The Kings and the Cheetahs also stand to benefit. The Pro14 has handed them a lifeline at a time when these teams were cut from the Super Rugby tournament, and I feel they will enter this new chapter with gusto. They are certain to add a fast and entertaining brand of rugby to the competition, and will not be merely making up the numbers. I, for one, cannot wait to see Cardiff Blues take on The Cheetahs at the Arms Park this season!

For a taster of what’s to come, here are the highlights from when Southern Kings hosted The Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth in the Super Rugby competition just last month.

Cardiff Blues fans may recall that Wales’ Capital Region faced the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in 2012 – an invitational game which formed part of their pre-season programme. The Blues emerged victorious that day, edging the hosts 32-31 courtesy of a late Ceri Sweeney penalty.

The Blues and The Cheetahs will re-ignite their rivalry this season, with both teams drawn in Conference A. Blues Head Coach Danny Wilson is relishing the challenge ahead:

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Versatile Blues back-rower Macauley Cook recalls their last encounter with the Cheetahs:

Cardiff Blues second-row powerhouse George Earle, formerly of The Cheetahs, outlines what the Arms Park outfit can expect from the South African teams:

Scarlets Head Coach Wayne Pivac is excited for the challenges the new Pro14 will bring, as the West-Walians begin defence of their championship crown in September:

Elsewhere in the league, new Edinburgh Head Coach Richard Cockerill describes the Pro14 expansion as “ground-breaking”, as he prepares for his first season in the championship:

Glasgow Warriors scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is a big fan of Super Rugby, and believes the Cheetahs and Kings will add an exciting new dimension to the league:

And finally, Cheetahs Head Coach Franco Smith – a former coach at Treviso – describes his determination to hit the ground running when the Bloemfontein outfit make their Pro14 debut in September:

The fixture list for the Pro14 is due to be confirmed on 7th August.

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Pro14 Tournament Officially Announced

The landmark expansion of the Pro12 was finally confirmed today, together with an official explanation on the format of the tournament, as well as details of European qualification.

The announcement ends weeks of speculation as to whether a conference system would be adopted, and whether the South African teams will be involved in the European Champions and Challenge Cup tournaments.

As had been rumoured, the tournament will now be split into two conferences of seven teams. Each conference is made up of two Welsh teams, two Irish teams, and one team each from Scotland, Italy and South Africa. Teams will play a round robin of fixtures against the other six teams in their own conference, plus one game (either home or away) against all seven teams in the other conference. There had been concerns that the format would sacrifice certain high profile derby matches in Wales and Ireland, but an additional two rounds of matches have been added to ensure those games remain. To account for those extra rounds, The Scots, Italians and South Africans will face each other a total of three times during the season – bragging rights at stake, or what?

As for European qualification, it has been confirmed the South African sides will not be involved at this initial stage. Therefore, the top three sides in each conference at the end of the season will qualify for the Champions Cup, along with whichever fourth-placed team has the highest points tally (all discounting the SA sides).

I absolutely love this new format, and I absolutely love the expansion to include the Cheetahs and the Kings from South Africa. This cross-border competition has just got even more vibrant and exciting, and with the vision to expand into the southern hemisphere, this is a massive statement of the ambition of the Pro14.

Chief Executive of the tournament, Martin Anayi: “The arrival of the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings marks a bold and exciting new chapter for the Guinness PRO14 as a global rugby Championship.
“South Africa is a rugby powerhouse of over 55 million people. These teams already operate to the high standards demanded by Super Rugby and they will add to the quality of our tournament.
“This is a natural evolution for the Championship… and we aim to be at the forefront of the game’s growth around the world.”

My dream is to see a world club competition launched at some point in the future, and with this announcement, it feels a little bit closer today. I truly believe this new chapter in the competition will be a resounding success, and I am so excited for the new season to start!

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Leigh Halfpenny set to join Scarlets

Early reports are breaking this morning regarding a deal to bring Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny to Pro12 champions, the Scarlets.

Halfpenny, a prolific and world-class goal kicker, was man of the series when the British and Irish Lions toured Australia in 2013, but lost his full-back test jersey to fellow Welshman Liam Williams for the 2017 tour to New Zealand. As it happens, it is the departure of Williams from the Scarlets that leaves the region in search of a top class full-back, which is where Halfpenny comes in.

Formerly of Cardiff Blues – one of several clubs that had hoped to lure the star back to the U.K – Halfpenny has spent three very successful years with French giants Toulon, and tasted European glory in 2015, scoring 14 points in the European Champions Cup final victory over Clermont.

However, there has been uncertainty over his future as Toulon released him at the start of the summer, and negotiations with Wasps, Cardiff Blues and Bath either broke down, or proved to be mere rumours.

It is believed that Halfpenny will sign a national Dual Contract that will see the WRU pay 60% of his wage bill, with the Scarlets footing the remaining 40%. I am delighted to see a player of Halfpenny’s talent and stature return to Wales, and although he is a very different type of full-back to the departing Liam Williams, few would deny he will be a valuable addition to a lively and very exciting back division down at Llanelli.

 

Key signings for the Welsh regions ahead of the new season

As excitement builds ahead of the new, expanded Pro14 competition, let’s take a glance at some of the big transfer news and key signings at the Welsh regions.

Ospreys

Continuing a strong tradition of shrewd recruitment, the Ospreys have opted for quality over quantity in the off-season. Corey Allen joins from Cardiff Blues, the Wales centre hoping to revive his international career after a long spell of injuries left him down the pecking order and struggling for game time at the Arms Park. A star turn during Wales’ summer tour to the Pacific Islands will have generated a lot of excitement about his arrival at the Liberty Stadium, and he will be a valuable addition to the Ospreys squad.

Perhaps the most exciting signing across all four Welsh regions, however, is the return of former Osprey James Hook.

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The immensely talented Hook has enjoyed a lively and diverse career, sampling France’s Top14 league with Perpignan, before becoming a fan favourite at Kingsholm with Gloucester. Hook is such an exciting rugby player, perhaps one of the most naturally talented players in my generation. It is widely believed that his versatility has actually counted against him on the international stage – he can play at fly-half, centre, full-back or even wing. Subtle yet exciting and, at his best, elusive and unpredictable, Ospreys fans will absolutely relish his long-awaited return. James Hook is box office, and his return is a massive boost to Welsh rugby.

Scarlets

The defending champions have been the quietest of the regions over the summer, with a few interesting signings seemingly overshadowed by the departure of the mercurial Liam Williams to English champions Saracens.

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Former Osprey and Dragon Tom Prydie, Scarlets’ key off-season acquisition, certainly has big boots to fill. Prydie was the youngest player ever to have represented the Wales senior team, having featured against Italy in the 2010 Six Nations, and is Wales’ youngest ever try scorer, surpassing a record that had been set in 1891 when he touched down against South Africa the same year.

Prydie is joining an extremely exciting, attacking Scarlets team that is absolutely brimming with confidence. Linking up with the likes of Jonathan Davies, Rhys Patchell, James Davies and Scott Williams will surely help Prydie re-establish a cutting edge.

Dragons

With the WRU having taken control of the Newport Gwent region over the summer, work has already started on installing a new, semi-synthetic pitch, and, coupled with the arrival of two big-name signings, things are certainly moving in the right direction at Rodney Parade.

Zane Kirchner, the 30-cap Springbok, joins the men of Gwent from Leinster in what is seen as a huge statement of intent. A dangerous counter-attacker, Kirchner was drawn to the region by its potential, and will add much needed experience, as well as a winners mentality, to a largely youthful squad.

Another to add his experience is the excellent Gavin Henson. After years in the international wilderness, Henson has underlined his credentials during several superb seasons with Bristol, and now makes the short hop back across the Severn Bridge to help play a leading role in a Dragons team looking to really re-invent itself this term. I can’t wait to see Henson plying his trade back in Wales. A hugely influential and creative player, I have every confidence that he will lead by example and have a big impact on the fortunes of the Dragons in the coming season.

Cardiff Blues

South African lock Franco van der Merwe joins from Ulster to replace the departing Kiwi powerhouse Jarrad Hoeata, while the signing of centre Jack Roberts is also creating much excitement. The Welsh youngster made a huge impression filling in for the injured Manu Tuilagi at Leicester Tigers last season, and big things are expected of him on his return to Welsh rugby. The youngster will be bolstering an extremely strong midfield contingent of Steven Shingler, Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo, all of whom will look to continue their superb form from the tail end of last season’s campaign.

Sion Bennett also confirms his long term switch from Northampton Saints, the back-rower having put in a series of huge shifts for the Blues when he was brought in towards the end of last season. The Wales U20 international was a wrecking ball in attack and defence against the likes of Leinster in Dublin, and he can look forward to a bright future at the Blues alongside Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi and Nick Williams.

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