Katy Guest: England wins again (that's the women's team, of course)

A rare mix of sporting prowess, honesty and modesty
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The Independent Online

Until you read page 18 today, were you aware that England are playing in the World Cup Final this afternoon? Had you got the beers in? Were you going to divert the phone straight to voicemail from 5.15pm? Has your local pub got a big screen up? Did you try to get tickets for the big match at Twickenham?

It's unlikely that you knew of this fixture if you get your sports news from the UK press, or from advertising, or Google or the BBC. If you type "rugby world cup final" into Google, first up are 2011 and 2003 (the last time that the England men's team won). The BBC website's top rugby headline on Friday was "Australia make three changes for South Africa Test" (snore), and most of the papers were still banging on about Capello. Are British sports lovers really only interested when their teams lose?

It's funny, because the people in charge of bringing coverage to fans repeatedly assure us that they really want women to be interested in sport. And why wouldn't they? We're half the population, make up half of their audiences and probably represent more than half of their advertisers' target market. We don't have half-sized brains. It's just hard to remain interested in cheating cricketers and overpaid posers who are so worn out from taking out super-injunctions that they barely have the energy to fall over a football for 90 minutes. Why can't they give us some sport worth watching?

Well this afternoon, in a bold experiment, "they" will. The Women's Rugby World Cup Final will be shown live at www.rwcwomens.com/video and on Sky TV, and I'd put money on it being the best 80 minutes or so of British sport since 1966. If there were a gender-neutral form of the word "sportsmanship", these women would be its epitome.

They are dedicated, athletic, elegant and tough, showing as much power and precision as in the men's game but, thankfully, with a lot less hoofing of the ball up and down the pitch. They train as hard as their male counterparts and play as many matches to the same rules. The main difference is that they're not paid. (They make a living from day jobs such as A&E doctor, police officer and PE teacher, rather than with a bit of light betting fraud, as is supposedly inevitable among poorly paid sportsmen.) The other difference is that the England women's team usually win.

When I first saw them beat New Zealand last November at Twickenham, I wondered why nobody had told me about women's rugby before. Among the 12,500 fans who had stuck around at the ground to watch the women after the men's team lost their match 19-6, I dare say many felt the same. The post-match interview with the captain, Catherine Spencer, had the commentators gasping at her modesty and eloquence. But then, they're probably not used to international sports stars who also have jobs and degrees in philosophy.

It's surprising, though, that this is still surprising. Following a rare interview with Nicola Ponsford, the England team performance director, on Thursday, the Today programme's usually sensible sports presenter Garry Richardson came over all patronising and silly when he related a brush with the England heroines recently. "The players have been training in my local gym," he told John Humphrys, "and the other morning I was on one of the running machines and they were all in there and I think, 'I'm gonna last longer than you.' I didn't."

Mr Richardson is a betting man (though not a winning one), his daily racing tips suggest. Perhaps he should challenge the England women to a sprint, scrum or penalty contest: the loser would have to promise to give women's sport the prominence it deserves in future, and the winner... well, the winner will be the women. Let's hope that goes for their match against New Zealand this afternoon, too.

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