Rugby Union: Artful Almond keeps Welsh women at bay

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The Independent Online
Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

England. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

THE CURIOSITY and novelty value of women's rugby has thankfully diminished, the skill and commitment has increased dramatically, and the near 3,000 crowd at Bridgend were kept enthralled to the final whistle by a match dominated by England that nevertheless threatened to slip away from them.

Two years ago in Cardiff, the English had to pull out the stops in injury time to snatch a 14-10 victory. Yesterday, they were threatened with losing in a similar fashion because, despite dominating up front through their superior size, strength and technique, they found it difficult to quell the Welsh spirit.

The reason for that was not so much the nations' traditional rivalry, but more the indomitable attitude and style of Liza Burgess, the Welsh captain and No 8. Aptly nicknamed 'Big Bird', the Saracens back row was a colossus from start to finish and threatened to steer Wales to a first victory over England in nine attempts.

It was only Burgess and Bess Evans, the hooker, who were a match physically for England's forwards, among whom Gill Burns and Heather Stirrup were outstanding.

England had first use of a strong wind and quickly pressed home their advantage with a try after eight minutes by the right wing Cheryl Stennett following a neat half-break by Karen Almond.

Almond and Emma Mitchell, the captain's superb half-back partner, were the tactical talent behind the England pack and they ran the show, playing into the wind in the second half. Before changing ends, England had stretched their lead to 11-3 thanks to two penalties from Almond to one from Amanda Bennett. But the second half saw the Welsh forwards carry the fight to their bigger rivals and their great moment came when Burgess burrowed her way over from close range for Bennett to convert.

Wales: Try Burgess; Conversion Bennett; Penalty Bennett. England: Try Stennett; Penalties Almond 2.

WALES: J Thomas (Blackheath); S Linnard (Blackheath), W Shaw (Clifton), E Davies (Richmond), K Yau (Waterloo); A Bennett (Wasps), C Thomas (Waterloo); B Trotter (Cardiff Quins), B Evans (Cardiff Quins), E Skiffington (Clifton), K Eaves (Wasps), H Carey (Swansea Uplands), S Buttler (Richmond), L Burgess (Saracens, capt), J Morgan (Cardiff Quins).

ENGLAND: P George (Wasps); C Stennett (Wasps), C Vyvyan (Wasps), G Pragnell (Wasps), A Cole (Saracens); K Almond (Saracens, capt), E Mitchell (Saracens); J Mangham (Waterloo), N Ponsford (Clifton), S Ewing (Wasps), S Wenn (Clifton), H Stirrup (Wasps), J Ross (Saracens), G Burns (Waterloo), G Shore (Wasps).

Referee: R G Davies (Wales).