Rugby Union / Women's World Championship: England have to beg to ask the question: Few favours for the favourites as sponsors turn their backs on one of the fastest growing sports

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The Independent Online
THE SQUABBLING over money in men's rugby union, following the recently struck television deals worth pounds 34m, has an unseemly, even obscene, feel to it in comparison with what is going on in the women's game. It must be even more galling for the women to learn that ITV had lined up a pounds 50m deal to get the boys on screen.

England, the pre-tournament favourites for the Women's World Championship, which got under way in Scotland yesterday, have had to rely on hand-outs and scraps in order to be able to take part in the premier competition in the women's game.

No one, it seems, wants to back one of the fastest growing sports in the world. England have once more been reduced to holding out the begging bowl. Not one major sponsor in the men's game wants to know them.

Val Moore is the England team manager and her delight was palpable when she announced that a cider company had donated pounds 500 towards tracksuits. Mind you, pounds 100 of that was immediately spent embroidering the name of the firm on to a prominent position on the garments.

'Some of the players made appeals to their clubs,' Moore said. 'We were given two sets of shirts worth a total of pounds 600 by Rhino, who make scrummaging machines, but we had to buy tracksuits, T-shirts and sweat shirts at a cost of pounds 85 per person and there are 36 in the party including management.'

They scrounged transport costs from InterCity for the players, but Moore drove to the team's Edinburgh hotel. 'We've got a wonderful deal with the team hotel,' she explained. 'It's in George Street and is first-class. They have given us the lowest rate they possibly can for bed and breakfast - pounds 25 per person. Even so, some of the girls cannot afford that much and have cadged a flat from friends in Edinburgh to save on costs.'

The England hooker, Sue Dorrington, who will be an automatic choice when she gets there, postponed her arrival until later this week. Her decision meant that she missed yesterday's opening match against Russia, which England won 66-0, but she wanted to save a little on hotel bills.

It is hardly the ideal start for the players, who are highly fancied to win the title on 24 April. Their opponents in the final are likely to be the United States, who beat England in the 1991 final.

New Zealand and the Netherlands are not taking part but their absence does not diminish the quality of this year's event, which involves 12 teams from 11 countries - Scotland Students stepping in at the last minute when Spain withdrew - organised into four pools. The four home countries are drawn in different pools, but the Scottish Students have to cope with Ireland in Pool C.

Winners and runners-up then move into the quarter-finals and the knock-out stages of the tournament. To keep up the momentum, there is a round-robin plate competition for first-round losers, plus a shield knock-out for the losing quarter-finalists. Altogether, half a dozen club venues are being used at Gala, Boroughmuir, West of Scotland, Kirkcaldy, Melrose and Edinburgh Academicals, where the final and play-off for third place will be held.

England's preparations have been thorough. Under the guidance of the three Steves - Dowling, Peters and Jew - as well as Carol Isherwood, the former England captain and assistant coach, they have ignored the off-field problems and got on with their game.

Their warm-up matches gave them the perfect platform from which to work - victory over Wales and the annihilation of Italy before Christmas. But the highlight was the classy way they disposed of an awkward French team in February.

Moore, who won two caps at fullback for Great Britain and picked up the odd splinter on the England bench from 1986-88, is currently sidelined by a knee injury, but she still plays and was clearly impressed with that performance. 'It was a tremendous game,' she said, 'absolutely amazing. For once I knew I could not be a player on that pitch and do what they were doing. It just seemed a whole league above anything I had ever experienced.'

It seems a shame that such riches on the pitch should go unrewarded off it. Perhaps if England's women lift the world title they will no longer have to raise the begging bowl.

----------------------------------------------------------------- CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE ----------------------------------------------------------------- REMAINING FIXTURES Pool A: Sweden v Japan (13 April); United States v Japan (15 April). Pool B: Scotland v Russia (13 April); Scotland v England (15 April). Pool C: Scotland Students v France (13 April); France v Ireland (15 April). Pool D: Wales v Kazakhstan (13 April); Canada v Kazakhstan (15 April). Quarter-finals (17 April): A1 v C2; B1 v D2; C1 v A2; D1 v B2. Semi-finals (Gala, 20 April): Winners Q1 v Q4; Q2 v Q3. Final: (Edinburgh Academicals, 24 April). -----------------------------------------------------------------

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