Forced to compete with the Old Trafford Test and the US PGA at Valhalla, it required a little dexterity with the red button to take in the full eight hours of Sky Sports’ Women’s Rugby World Cup offering on Saturday. But those, like this column, who did, enjoyed a gently muliebral twist on that still most die-hard of masculine games.
As lowly Kazakhstan inevitably tired in the second half of the opening match against Ireland, it seemed somehow even more deflating for a beaten full-back chasing an opponent who will never be caught, to have to watch their auburn ponytail bounce up and down as it sped under the posts, like the brush of a bright fox taunting an exhausted hound.
It was a long day in the studio too, for Canadian Meghan Mutrie and England’s Catherine Spencer. Given the near unimaginable volume of discussion on the telegenic qualities of ITV’s Fabio Cannavaro not so long ago, this column hopes it won’t be considered to have done an Inverdale if it suggests that if one closes one’s eyes and imagines a giant of women’s rugby it is not Mutrie, with her almond eyes and fountain of creamy blond hair, that one sees.
Indeed, one has to search pretty hard even on Mutrie’s own website to find evidence of her days in the Canadian Rugby team, which may partly explain her take on the post-match, on-pitch interview from Ireland’s knackered victorious captain: “Look at that lovely smile.”
Spencer’s credentials, however, are not to be questioned, as she has captained England and played in the last two World Cups, hence perhaps the silence that met Mutrie’s suggestion over the big, winner-takes-all group match between their two teams, that: “If Canada win you can send me a dozen English roses, and if England win I will send you maple syrup and cook you a big lumberjack breakfast.”
With only the winner assured a place in the semi-finals, it was a cynicism-shredding match right from the start, full of pace, flawless technique, powerful forwards and snake-hipped backs. Only the ball handling was suspect, but when isn’t it? With three minutes to go, and the score level at 13-13, it was ingenious from Jamie Hammond in the commentary box to maintain the suspense by keeping from the viewer the fact that a draw almost certainly sent both sides through with the rather large bonus of elim-inating New Zealand, the four-time world champions and overwhelming favourites.
It’s possible, of course, given the blind panic with which Canada piled forward in the dying moments, and the dejection on their faces at the final whistle, that they didn’t know either.
Once it was clear no roses or breakfasts would be changing hands, it was mathematical not rugby insight that was required back in the studio, with Spencer and Mutrie bravely picking their way through a web of bonus points and tries scored and points difference.
Still, now all is worked out, England will play an undefeated and impressive Ireland in their semi-final on Wednesday before Canada face France, and this column will again be watching.