Rugby Union: England's women short on cash but high on tries: David Llewellyn sees a record win but finds nothing in the bank

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S women left their sport's troubles on the touchline at Imber Court yesterday as they annihilated Italy 67-0 in a record breaking 11-try romp to get their World Cup preparations on the right road. Karen Almond, the captain, led by example, scoring a hat- trick of tries and kicking six conversions on a wickedly windy day.

These days all the problems with the women's game seem to be off the pitch. If you needed an idea of what those might be, the fact that there is as yet no sponsor for the second Women's World Cup, being held in the Netherlands from 10-24 April, says enough.

Lack of backing did not prevent the Women's Rugby Football Union from staging the inaugural event in Cardiff two years ago - when England beat Italy 24-9 - but it would have been a lot easier on a lot of people if sponsors had been found.

Fortunately, raising cash this time around is not England's responsibility, which frees them to concentrate on the playing side. Anyway, they have had enough trouble raising financial backing for the squad's kit, a recent deal with Cotton Traders falling through at the last minute. Happily a New Zealand firm stepped in, but England would have been happier with home-based backing.

Nevertheless, cash is no good if you have not got the playing staff and that is something England are making sure they will have a wealth of. In addition to an England A side, who beat an invitation team 18-5 as a warm-up to yesterday's big match, they also have an England Students XV and have now introduced an emerging players' side.

As Almond points out, in order to raise cash the game has to raise its profile. No one here was in any doubt about the quality of the product. The women's game is played as hard and as uncompromisingly as the men's, and what it lacks in brute strength it more than compensates for in guile and touch.

Roger Quittenton, a former

international referee, came off after officiating in his third women's match and was full of praise for what he had witnessed. 'That was absolutely fantastic,' he said. 'The women have made remarkable progress on all fronts and most importantly they have learned how to ruck.'

Emma Mitchell capped a fine performance at scrum-half with two tries, while her twin sister, Jane, made the trip from California worthwhile with one of her own.

It is back to league and cup action for a while, but Wales and France await Almond and company in February. They promise to be tough nuts to crack.

England: Tries Wenn 2, Almond 3, Burns 2, E Mitchell 2, Prangnell, J Mitchell; Conversions Almond 6.

ENGLAND: J Mitchell (Berkeley, Ca); C Stennett (Wasps), J Edwards (Blackheath), G Prangnell (Wasps), A Cole (Saracens); K Almond (Saracens, capt), E Mitchell (Saracens); J Mangham (Waterloo), N Ponceford (Clifton), S Ewing (Wasps), S Wenn (Clifton), H Stirrup (Wasps), J Ross (Saracens), G Shore (Wasps), G Burns (Waterloo).

Replacements: J Gregory (Wasps) for Mangham, 20; J Potter (Saracens) for Edwards, 42.

ITALY: L Nave; M Pasotti, S Melis (F Sferragatta, 67), E Morri, E Bisetto; M Tonella, M Tondinella; A Corbanese, M Cimini, M Breda, L Fabbri, C Boncilli, C Pescatori, M Palla (capt), M-C Tonna.

Referee: R Quittenton (Rustington).

(Photograph omitted)