Quins Sizzle In The Stoop Sunshine

The origin of name Saracens comes from the Latin “Saraceni” “to steal, Rob, plunder” and also from the Arabic noun “Sariq” which means “Thief, marauder, plunderer.

But the 21st century Saracens found fortress Stoop impenetrable on a warm sunny autumn Saturday afternoon, and on this wonderful colourful occasion it was Harlequins who did the plundering.

Roared on by a crowd of 1,254 the home side appeared to feed off the mostly home support that applauded and cheered every thing that moved in a Quins shirt.

This was the performance Quins have been looking for, they never took a backward step and showed a cutting edge in attack against one of the best defences in the league.

Marlie Packer the Saracens flanker is a plumber by trade but it was the Quins boiler room of Abbie Scott and Zoe Saynor that proved too hot to handle.

Sarries found Quins cooking on gas as they turned up the rugby thermostat with a gutsy high tempo performance that was too much for last seasons champions.

A sun-baked crowd cheered Quins to victory as heroic first half defence gave way to some searing second half breaks from Shaunagh Brown, and scrum half Leanne Riley, who was back to her very best barking orders and keeping up the high tempo game that Quins thrive on with quick tap penalties.

Ellie Green kicked Quins into a 3-0 lead with a penalty in the 13th minute.

Saracens responded with two tries in two minutes from Botterman and Wardle to lead 12-3 after 28mins.

The flying Swede, Tove Viksten, crashed over in the 31st minute and Ellie Green converted to bring Quins back to within two points 10-12 a score that remained unchanged up to half time.

Saracens started the second half with all guns blazing and a Marlie Packer try extended Sarries lead to 17-10.

In the 60th munute, Kay Searcey was yellow carded for taking out Abbie Scott in the air, Quins responded with verve and panache to take full advantage an Ellie Green penalty brought Quins back to 13-17, and on 67 mins Heather Cowell finished off a wonderful back line move with a glorious try , Quins 30th of the season, superbly converted by Green taking Quins in front 20-17

Quins defence held firm and they ended the match firmly ensconced in the Saracens half.

The final whistle was greeted with a Roar from a knowledgeable home support that fully appreciated how significant a win this was

As the sun dipped behind the east stand, the players were still on the pitch signing autographs taking part in selfies, revelling in the wonderful warm glow that a memorable victory and such an occasion brings.

There was an accuracy and precision at training last week which was transferred into the matchday performance on Saturday, all credit to the coaches and players, and who knows maybe even my welsh cakes may have played a tiny part

As the ground slowly emptied a group of young girls in the crowd  began singing “We love you Gary”, on this occasion it was not for Mr Barlow but for Mr Street, and after a tough few weeks off the field for the likeable Quins coach it was a song we’d all like to join in with.

Scoring sequence 3-0 3-5 3-7 3-12 8-12 10-12 Half Time 10-17 13-17 18-17 20-17


Friends United Harlequins Ladies

Imagine a mild damp Autumn evening in Guildford, the car headlights from the busy A3 dual carriageway, high above the floodlit pitches, reflect through the leafless trees, and shimmer off the illuminated bright green turf at a misty Surrey Sports Park.

Amidst the distant whining engine noise, cascading down from the vehicles of weary commuters heading home, Harlequins ladies start their Thursday night training session, warming up under the watchful eye of head coaches Gary Street and Karen Findlay.

The chemistry teacher, the office worker all arrive straight from their day jobs, something many of us forget when we watch their relatively pampered male counterparts go about their business.

It was here twelve months ago where a cynical old rugby hack discovered a rugby paradise.

I arrived to interview Quins and Scottish international lock Debs McCormack, after a wonderful hour with “The Flower of Scotland”  I stayed behind to watch training, and what hit me straight away about this group of players, and coaches, was their togetherness, their amazing friendliness and the total absence of any cliques in the squad.

I later found those humble and thoroughly decent qualities were matched by a steeliness and determination on and off the field by players, coaches, support staff and everyone involved with the team.

I only had one written assignment with Quins Ladies, but something kept calling me back, I found myself hooked, and before long I found myself at training sessions, the players and coaches who were once strangers, became friends, especially when I started bringing Welsh cakes for everyone.

The Welsh cakes have now become almost a weekly ritual, and in some cases an addiction especially for a red-headed winger and one particular strength and fitness coach, who shall rename nameless, for now.

The fact is, I found myself refreshed by the true rugby values that were on display from this incredible bunch, it gave me a journalistic lease of life, and wonderful contrast to the ever decreasing openness between press and players and coaches in the mens game,

When I lost both my parents, suddenly, this year, as you might expect they were there for me offering support, compassion and comfort in equal measure.

The women’s game has moved on in leaps and bounds since the Womens Rugby World Cup of 2017, Harlequins have been at the cutting edge of development and improvement, and indeed “professionalism” whilst maintaining the “old” values, which is not always an easy balance to strike.

So, as the Autumn light fades into winter darkness, there will be some huge battles ahead, times of joy and times of having to dig deep in an effort to ensure that when the days lengthen in early spring Quins are in a position to compete in the knock out stages of the Tyrells Premiership.

All that is a long way off, and the rugby road is a long one with many twists and turns, and I for one am delighted and privileged to join Quins on their journey.

Simon Middleton On Red Roses Squad Selection

The Red Roses play USA, Canada and Ireland in the three-Test series at Allianz Park, Castle Park and Twickenham Stadium this November with every game available live on Sky Sports. 

28 players have been included, including seven uncapped names. Lucy Attwood (Bristol Bears), Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies), Ellie Mulhearn (Bristol Bears), and Ellena Perry (Saracens Women) all featured in England Women U20’s summer tour to Canada, with established Red Roses Hannah Botterman (Saracens), Zoe Harrison (Saracens) and Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies) also named having toured with the development side in August.


In addition, Wasps scrum half Claudia Macdonald, Gloucester-Hartpury centre Tatyana Heard and Loughborough Lightning centre Carys Williams will all be looking for their first appearance for the Red Roses.


Alongside the new talent are a number of established players with long-time Red Rose captain Sarah Hunter again named to lead the side. Katy Daley-Mclean will make her 100th international appearance if named to play in one of the three games.


Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens), Sarah McKenna (Saracens) and Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries) will be looking for their first international 15-aside starts since the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup having returned to the 15-aside setup after time in the England Sevens programme last season.


England Women open their campaign against USA at Allianz Park on Friday 9 November.


“As a group, we are really looking forward to getting the Quilter Internationals underway and performing to our maximum,” said Middleton.
“We have made a number of changes within the squad, with 12 new faces named since the 2018 Six Nations. While there is a great feel of youthfulness, with seven players fresh from the Under 20’s summer tour, we have critically been able to retain a number of world class performers from the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, ensuring an essential balance of quality, youth and experience.
“As we start our journey towards the 2021 World Cup, the focus over the Quilter Internationals is not only on winning but performance. We have reshaped our game and we will be looking to see which players can bring the plan to life in the intensity of an international match environment. 
“With full-time contracts on the horizon and a great season of international rugby in front of us, the challenge and opportunity is there for individuals to stake their claim as a Red Rose.”


Three Bristol Bears players, Sarah Bern, Lagi Tuima, and Amber Reed, are unavailable through injury. Wasps FC Ladies hooker Amy Cokayne is unavailable for the three Tests due to commitments with the Royal Air Force.



Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury)

Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies)

Jo Brown (Loughborough Lightning)

Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women)

Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Ladies)

Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women)

Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Ladies)

Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries)

Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women)

Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning)

Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)

Ellie Mulhearn (Bristol Bears)

Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning)

Marlie Packer (Saracens Women)

Ellena Perry (Saracens Women)

Abbie Scott (Harlequins Ladies)



Lucy Attwood (Bristol Bears)

Rachael Burford (Harlequins Ladies)

Katy Daley-Mclean (Loughborough Lightning)

Abigail Dow (Wasps FC Ladies)

Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women)

Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury)

Claudia Macdonald (Wasps FC Ladies)

Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women)

Leanne Riley (Harlequins Ladies)

Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury)

Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries)

Carys Williams (Loughborough Lightning)


Bread of Heaven And A Slice Of Reality

At the height of its trading powers Cardiff was a familiar haunt for Spanish sailors.

Spending the night ashore with their  vessels docked in Cardiff Bay, a pint of “Brains” the local ale and a warm bed for the night were the order of the day.

Under the closed roof of the principality stadium it was plain sailing for the latest group of Iberian visitors who left a young and inexperienced Wales side floundering.

As storm Callum headed towards the capital the roof at Principality Stadium was firmly shut with 50,232 excited fans inside.

The excitement and more importantly the hope of an upset were extinguished after just 8 minutes as Borussia Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer gave Spain the lead.

Pantomime Villian Sergio Ramos put Spain 2-0 up on 19 minutes before Alcacer got his second and Spain’s third within the opening half hour, ending the match as a contest without Wales even getting a shot on target.

Without Gareth Bale Wales struggled to make any inroads as Spain dominated the ball
With 71% Possession. They took their foot off the gas in the second half  but still managed a fourth goal from substitute Marc Bartra on the 74th minute.

The visitors were impressive but some poor defending led to three of the four Spanish scores.

Welsh fans were finally given something to cheer when Sam Vokes headed in a David Brooks cross in the 89th minute.

A sobering lesson for a young and inexperienced Welsh side, they will be hoping for calmer waters when they cross the Irish Sea on Tuesday.

Burf The Big Cheese Of Women’s Rugby 

Sport at its simplest is an expression of joy and competition, an arena where players and fans can unite in a common cause, sharing hope despair joy and heart breaking sadness.

Sport mirrors society, and yet in many ways sport can be a catalyst for social change, to create equality in gender, sexuality and in the way we treat our fellow human beings.

Rachael Burford is a rugby player, she is a brilliant rugby player, and when you discover that she is a thoroughly lovely, friendly down to earth, and modest, individual to boot,  you can see why she is hugely admired and respected by those in our game.

Women’s rugby is set to explode, and it will be forever grateful to people like Burf for lighting the blue touch-paper, those that follow will find the path a lot smoother, thanks to Rachael and co having paved the way.

I’m not sure what magical properties lurk in depths of the river Medway, but the Garden of England has produced Red Roses by the bouquet load, along with the odd flower of Scotland.

Working tirelessly to promote foster and encourage the women’s game, the formation of the Burford Academy has given young girls a wonderful opportunity to learn and train  with the greats of the game, including Danielle Waterman, Rocky Clarke and Katy Daly McClean.

But it’s not just about rugby, the attitudes and confidence gained at the academy translate into life skills, transferable into society at large, which is perhaps the greatest legacy of all.

The next time Rachael runs out wearing the Red Rose of England, it will be for her 80th cap, an incredible feat, she is undoubtedly a global star, but at Harlequins she is just one the gang, taking and giving the banter in her own humble way

When her playing days are over, which is hopefully a long way off,  I have no doubt she will become a brilliant coach, in fact she has already achieved her RFU level 2 coaching badge.

Her media skills are also superb, and she looks supremely assured in front of the camera,I am sure that plenty of television and radio work will come her way.
Revealed as one of the top 50 most influential rugby people In Rugby World magazine, Rachael continues to set the standards on and off the field

Her playing career has been nothing short of incredible, 79 England caps, four world cups, two World Cup finals, two World Cup Sevens, a six nations grand slam and the RPA merit award in 2017 together with some bloke called Richie McCaw.

Burf’s floating passes are a thing of beauty, coach Gary Street compares them to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but for me they have an operatic quality more akin to a Puccini aria you know exactly what’s coming but it is still always a joy to behold.

Burf has straddled the bridge between old world rugby and the new order, managing to retain the old values, whilst embracing the hard edged professionalism that is an essential requirement at the top end of the game.

Those so important roots were established at Medway RFC which was virtually a family concern, Dad did everything from the bar to the books and the boots, whilst Rachael spent her formative years in the scarlet and gold shirt, the highlight being a season playing alongside mum Renata and sister Louise.

Everything that can be written about Rachael Burford has already been done so, and in many forms and guises, but for me it is her actions that separate her from the rest.

She has been a pioneer and pathfinder  for the women’s game, quite a weight to carry when you are trying to focus on your own game, but those strong shoulders, the ones that rotate to provide a pass worthy of Beethoven or Puccini, bear the load with grace, poise, and in a light humble manner that make it appear effortless. 

Maybe the River Medway has magical properties after all.

Quins Back On Track As They Derail Waterloo

A match against Waterloo is always going to be a war of attrition, but for Quins the victory may prove to be a platform to kick their season into gear.

See how seemlessly I worked in the station and the battle,  but there’s one more reference that has be taken into account when you mention the word Waterloo, and that of course is ABBA.

Well the winner takes it all, and on this occasion it was Quins that earned a bonus point victory at a sun drenched Surrey Sports Park.

Two tries in the first ten minutes from Chloe Edwards and Shaunagh Brown,gave the home side a lead that they never looked like losing.

A third try on the stroke of half time from Stacey White gave Quins a 15-0 lead at the break, and proved to be a killer blow to the visitors.


Two penalties from Waterloo fly half Bethany Scott in the 43rd and 48th minute, reduced Quins lead  to 15-6, but the Harlequins scrum continued to dominate which meant the Waterloo back line could never get any real attacking momentum. 

A try bonus point was just what the doctor ordered as Zoe Saynor crashed over from close range for Quins fourth, with 55 minutes on the clock.

Chloe Butler touched down in the 73rd minute and an Ellie Green conversion made it 27-6 to Harlequins. 

Full Time Contracts Sow Seeds For Red Roses To Bloom

The RFU is to introduce women’s full-time 15s contracts this season underlining its commitment to the long-term growth of women’s rugby.

Following its meeting on Wednesday, the RFU Board supported the proposal to introduce women’s contracts for the 15-aside game.

There will be 28 full-time contracts available to England Women, which will come into effect on 1 January.

The Quilter Internationals will be played under the existing EPS agreement.

The 28 contracts will be supplemented by seven elite player squad (EPS) agreements, meaning a total EPS of 35.

The move will continue to drive standards in the game both at a domestic and international level with all England players eligible to play for their clubs in the Tyrrells Premier 15s competition, returning to the RFU for England duties.

With immediate effect, the squad will be based Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre during core periods, providing a permanent base within a high performance training centre.

RFU Chief Executive Steve Brown said: “We are delighted to be able to offer full-time contracts to our 15s players. This has long been our ambition and demonstrates the RFU’s commitment to growing the women’s game and the belief we have in the future of the sport.

“We are at a tipping point for women’s rugby globally and it is our ambition to be world number one and drive growth at every level. As an organisation, from top to bottom, we are very much behind this and want to see the continued expansion and growth to realise the ambitious targets we have set ourselves.”

Under its women and girls strategy, the RFU plans to double the number of participants by 2021, increase the number of women’s teams by more than 75% to 800, the number of active women’s clubs to more than 400, and get more women involved in the sport as referees, coaches and volunteers.

RFU Director of Professional Rugby Nigel Melville said: “As a union we want to lead the way for driving standards in women’s rugby through everything we do. Full-time contracts are a big step in ensuring we have the access to players to develop them and fulfil their potential.

“Bisham Abbey is a world class training facility and it’s a great opportunity to have a permanent base and use of their facilities.”

O2, principal partner of the England team, Chief Marketing Officer Nina Bibby comments: “England Women’s Rugby is vitally important to O2 and seeing our logo on the England Women’s shirt when they step out to represent their country gives our customers and colleagues a huge amount of pride. We look forward to continuing to showcase and celebrate the national women’s game to the largest possible audience. It’s essential girls and young women growing up have the elite role models to look up to, who encourage them to pick up a rugby ball and get involved in the game we all love.”