Quintessential Togetherness With Harlequins Ladies

It is a damp mild Autumn night in Guildford, the car headlights from the A3 high above the floodlit pitches, reflect through the leafless trees, and shimmer off the illuminated green turf at Surrey Sports Park.

Amid the distant whining engine noise from the cars of the weary commuters driving home from work, Harlequin ladies go through their warm ups under the watchful eye of coaches Gary Street and Karen Findlay.

This is a typical Thursday night training session for the current Tyrrells Premier league leaders, who sit at the top of the table with seven bonus point wins from their opening seven matches.

The chemistry teacher, the office worker, are all here straight from a busy days work, something many of us forget when we watch their relatively pampered male counterparts go about their business.

What hits you straight away about this group of players and management, is the togetherness, the friendliness and the lack of cliques in the entire squad, there is no international hierarchy here which is great to see.

But those thorough Hubble and decent qualities are in addition to a steeliness and determination, shown on and off the field, by players coaches, and support staff, the reason Quins are sitting on top of the league is through the sheer hard work and dedication  of everyone involved.

Harlequins Ladies are part of the clubs overall women’s and girls strategy, which encompasses the Harlequins Foundations’ Switch Programme, the Harlequin Amateurs girls section, and the Harlequins Ladies 3rd XV.

At the Womens Rugby World in Ireland last August, Harlequins were represented by nine players across five different nations.

Rachael Burford, Vickii Cornborough and Leanne Riley were selected for England, while Michela Sillari and Manuela Furlan donned the blue of Italy.

Jess Wooden and Kimber Rozier represented the United States, whilst Rebecca Rowe and Sene Naoupu competed for Wales and the hosts Ireland respectively.

Deborah McCormack is also a seasoned Scottish international, but sadly the Scots missed  out on qualification for this years tournament .

Most of their home games are played at Surrey Sports Park, in Guildford, although some games have been, and are scheduled, to take place at the Stoop.

I have been fortunate enough to see most of their home games so far this season, and what impresses me, apart from their style of rugby, is the way the players and management mingle with the fans, chat about the game, and are so friendly and approachable, plus, at Guildford, there is a Starbucks less than one minutes walk from the main pitch, what more could anyone want.

As a rugby journalist  it is a breath of fresh air, these days ,to be able to talk and interact so freely with the players and coaches, and their patience seems to know no bounds, but i’m sure Rachael Burford and Deborah McCormack must think i’m stalking them.

The great ethos and values of rugby, that we cherish so dearly, are alive and well and positively flourishing in this group, and that is the greatest testament and compliment that I can pay them.

Meanwhile back at training, the final latte of the day has been poured at Starbucks, and the traffic on the A3 has descended into a gentle rumble, but last orders on the field are still some distance away as the hard work goes on, and guess what they’re all still smiling.

“Nunquam Dormio







Barbarians And All Blacks A Match Made In Heaven

There is no getting away from it, I am old, and sometimes I stare wistfully and with envy at the youthful figures I see before me striding their fields of dreams.

But one huge plus of nearing my sixtieth birthday is that I was alive in 1973, when “that” match was played at Cardiff Arms Park, not only was I alive, but I was there that day as an acne afflicted fifteen year old, standing in the north enclosure.

I was level with Phil Bennett when he started sidestepping in his twenty-five (twenty two’s hadn’t been invented back then) at the start of a try that still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I watch it.

If I close my eyes I can go back there in an instant, I can smell the damp grass, the liniment, the Brains dark on the adults breath around me, it was the most magical of days.

Fast forward some forty-four years later and this Saturday  I will be in the press box at Twickenham, the exuberance of youth and wide-eyed innocence has long gone, but the thought of seeing those two sets of famous jerseys run out on to the lush turf at HQ still sets my pulse racing.

One of the main protagonists of that great game in ’73’ hardly ever gets a mention, yet it was his empathy, and feel for the game, that played a huge part in allowing it to be such a classic, I am referring to Georges Domerq the French referee, he was a diminutive figure socks rolled down clad in green and dwarfed by the Giants all around him.

Georges,pictured above, is now 86 and lives in Bellocq where he has been mayor of the town since before the 1973 epic.

It is not widely known that the match created such euphoria in France, that a crowd gathered to cheer and greet the Frenchman at the airport, when the aircraft bringing home landed in France.

Domerq was invited to referee the Barbarians “re match”with the All Blacks, the following year at Twickenham, when a Mervyn Davies try saved the day and the match ended with honours even at 13-13, the only match New Zealand failed to win on that tour.

There is a symmetry between 1973 and 2017, in that on Saturday we have a man in the middle with an equal empathy, and an equal feel for the game, Nigel Owens.

Ok there may not be a cheering crowd to greet Nigel at the Pont Abraham services, on the M4, when he returns from London, and he is not mayor of Carmarthen, (well not yet anyway) but he is the King of hearts in Wales and indeed in many other realms.

The sales of “Ref Radio” increase dramatically when Mr Owens is on duty, I think it’s about time he got a royalty contract with the providers.

Whilst there is symmetry in the whistle blowers the same cannot be said of the players.

The 1973 team that faced the All Blacks, contained the bulk of the victorious Lions 1971 side that were series winners in the land of the long white cloud.

Also the 1974 Baa Baas contained the Lions pack that were unbeaten in their 1974 tour of South Africa.

Sadly in this professional era the Barbarians can longer call on the cream of British rugby, but there is still a very special feeling about a Baa Baas match with New Zealand.

On Saturday I will think back with nostalgic reverence to the seventies, and I guarantee you that somewhere in the Twickenham crowd, there will be a fifteen year old who will enjoy a magical day, that will stay with him of her for ever, such is the magic of a Barbarians v New Zealand match.

“For it’s a way we have in the Baa Baas and a jolly good way too”.


The Barbarians Get In Touch With Their Feminine Side

The Barbarians are to launch a women’s team that will take the field for the first time this season. 

The famous invitation club founded in 1890 becomes twice as exciting when the women’s side makes its debut against Munster at Thomond Park on Friday, November 10.

England World Cup winner Giselle Mather will coach the team in the first of a number of matches planned for the 2017-18 season. Managed by Fiona Stockley, the Barbarians will play against club, provincial and international sides with a full schedule to be confirmed later this year.

“We’re delighted to open a new chapter in the Barbarian FC’s history with the creation of our women’s team this season,” said Barbarians Chairman John Spencer.

“Its formation is something we’ve been working towards for a number of years and it is a reflection of the excellence of the global women’s game which was showcased so brilliantly at this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland.

“Our aim is to welcome more talented players into this iconic club to forge new friendships and play with the style and passion for which the Barbarians are famous. We are working with clubs and unions around the world to make sure it benefits the players and the game.”

The Barbarians will field players from seven different nations in their opening women’s game. Those who have already accepted invitations have 440 international caps between them. They are Susie Brown (Scotland), Fiona Coghlan (Ireland), Claire Cripps and Megan Goddard (England), Elen Evans (Wales), Emma Jenson (New Zealand), Christelle Le Duff (France) and Kelly Russell (Canada).

“The Barbarians are one of the reasons I fell in love with rugby and to be coaching this side is a massive honour,” said Mather, the Wasps Director of Rugby and a World Cup winning player in 1994.

“I can’t wait to get these players from all different nationalities together with everything they bring from their different environments. It’s going to be a massive opportunity for all these athletes.

“The state of the women’s game is phenomenal at the moment following events like the World Cup and the launch of the Tyrrell’s Premier 15s in England. With the Barbarians coming in on top of that it’s taking the game to a different level.”

Women’s Sport Trust Joint CEO Jo Bostock said: “Women’s rugby has made great strides in 2017 in terms of high-quality competition, investment and infrastructure, and we support the launch of the Barbarians women’s team. It is a further indication of the progress of women’s sport as a whole. 

“The Barbarians are an iconic rugby club with a long history of giving athletes from different countries the chance to form friendships and perform with the freedom that makes them better players. Extending that opportunity to the growing number of talented women’s players is to be applauded.”

Abi Chamberlain, Head of Leadership Development at Paysafe and a former England Sevens rugby captain, said: “Paysafe is absolutely thrilled to sponsor the Barbarians women’s team. This is an extremely important step forward for women’s rugby and we applaud the innovation and commitment of the Barbarians. 

“Following England’s superb performance in the recent World Cup, women’s rugby has hit new heights of popularity. It is important that cutting-edge advancements in the women’s game continue apace, and Paysafe is proud to be part of this new initiative and to champion the women’s game.”

World Rugby’s General Manager, Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir said: “It’s an incredibly exciting development in international rugby to see the first women’s Barbarians team being formed. The talented players that have been recruited from around the world for this team provide an excellent opportunity to deliver more inspirational rugby maintaining the momentum created during the recent World Cup in Ireland.

“It’s fantastic to see the financial partnerships that have come together to support this historic initiative.”

East Wales The Team That Tamed The Mighty 1967 All Blacks

In the olden days, when I was young, the annual Autumn international jamboree attended by every national team under the sun didn’t exist.

We used to welcome a single country’s rugby squad, who stayed for months on end.

They toured these islands, played against club sides, regional sides, national teams and then we all said our goodbyes with a match against the barbarians.

They stayed in small towns and large cities the length and breadth of the country, mixed with the locals, with the exception of Keith Murdoch, and left life long memories.

They got to know us and we got to know them, warts and all, but it made the cold wet winters bearable, then as winter faded and the days started to lengthen they headed home.

50 years ago the All Blacks toured the UK and France, a formidable and physically impressive squad they went through their fifteen match tour unbeaten.

The nearest they came to defeat was a drawn match against a hastily assembled East Wales side at Cardiff Arms Park

The match had originally been scheduled for the Saturday, but heavy snow fell throughout Wales, and although the playing surface was okay, the icy snow-covered terraces would have been a danger to spectators so the match was called off.

40,000 turned up on the following Wednesday afternoon, a week before Christmas, to watch a match which was expected to be an easy win for the unbeaten all-conquering all Blacks.

It was an overcast day and the pitch was greasy, the more mobile East Wales pack made the New Zealand forwards look ponderous, and the All Blacks half backs were put under a great deal of pressure throughout the game.

In the 22nd minute Lyn Baxter won a line-out and Barry John tried a dropkick it’s swerved away to the left of the posts but Frank Wilson followed up to beat Thorne to the touchdown.
Shortly afterwards Cardiff could, and maybe should have, been awarded a penalty try when a diagonal kick intended for winger Keri Jones saw him race to the line with McCormack, only for the New Zealander to Barge him out-of-the-way as they reached the ball.

Later in the first half Wilson went over for a try for the Welsh only to be called back for an infringement.

A try was only worth three points in those days so it was three nil to East Wales, the score remained the same at the end of the half

In the second-half East Wales launched attack after attack on the All Blacks line.

Several kickable penalties came their way which they missed resulting in Captain Gareth Edwards taking over the kicking duties and missing two kickable penalties himself from fairly easy positions.

10 minutes from time, and against the run of play, came the Steel try that saved the All Blacks blushes.

Lahore raced away from the scrum on halfway with Davies in support, Davies passed it out to Steel with the cover defence coming across and 50 yards to go a try did not look likely, but Steel beat off his tacklers to score probably the best, and definitely the most important try of the tour, to level the scores at 3-3

East Wales continued their onslaught on the All Blacks line, and there was almost a sensational finish when Barry John’s last second drop goal grazed the right upright.
It was felt the home side should have won this game and deserved to do so but the All Blacks hung on in there and saved their unbeaten tour record.

Gareth Edwards playing scrum half that day says “I was barely 20 years old though it was only a few months later that I captained Wales for the first time”.

“Dai Hayward, the former Cardiff and Wales wing, was asked to coach the East Wales side, though coaching was very much in its infancy then. He said we’d better meet up and have a chat about the game, so we met in what was then the Cockney Pride, a pub in Cardiff, where over a lunch of curry and chips , we discussed our tactical approach to this enormous event. I can still remember Dai’s opening line: “Well boy, there’s no point complicating anything.” If we get hold of the ball, he said, let’s move it”.

“On the Saturday of the scheduled match the whole town was covered in snow. I went down to the Angel Hotel, where we were due to have lunch, to find out what was going on. It turned out the All Blacks were staying there as well, so we had a few beers together”.

“It might be a case of the old memory playing tricks, but I think we completely outplayed them and should have won it. For a long time we led 3-0 and it didn’t look for a moment like they were going to score”.

“Afterwards the All Blacks manager, Charlie Saxton, spoke to us, and said they were very, very fortunate not to have lost. It was a harsh lesson for a young player like me to learn, but the All Blacks absolutely never gave up until the game was over. Tony Steel went on a great run down the wing, and that was 3-3, it was just about the only chance they had”.

“Even then, Barry John had a drop-goal chance at the death that just took the paint off the upright. Had we won it, against one of the greatest teams I ever played against, people would still be talking about it with great reverence. It was a wonderful performance by a side that had been put together literally in a week”.

“The two teams had a dinner and a few beers afterwards, but it was a Wednesday night, I had to get back to college and anyway I was playing them again at the weekend for the Barbarians. So in the end I said, “OK lads, we’ll see you on Saturday.”

The All Blacks won 14 of their 15 matches on the 1967 tour, beating England 23-11, Scotland 14-3 and Wales 13-6.

South Africa 2023 Rugby World Cup Bid Focuses On Player Welfare

South Africa, Ireland and France have an anxious wait until November 15 before they find out whether or not they have been successful in their bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

At the presentations to World Rugby the week before last,each country spoke of projected profits, of stadia, infrastructure, ticket sales, hospitality, but by in large the most important contributors, the players themselves, were barely mentioned, with the exception of the South Africa bid.

With Francois Piennar and John Smit on the panel they certainly painted the picture of  a player centric tournament, should they get the opportunity to host it in 2023.

At a time when player welfare is a hot topic, with talk of the possibility that players may be have to go on strike to reduce the intolerable increased demands being put upon them, and their health, the Springbok delegation were at pains to point out that player welfare will be at heart of RWC 2023, should they be declared hosts.

One of their key pillars of delivering the tournament centres on match schedules and team bases, designed to maximise player welfare, ahead of cost or indeed any other considerations.

Some of the proposals may seem small and insignificant, but the fact that they are the only bidders to even mention the players in their plans, gives them a lot of respect and credibility in my opinion, and who knows it may just be the little extra factor that makes the difference between winning and losing the Rugby World Cup bid.

A South African world cup ensures all training venues are a maximum 17 minutes travelling time from the teams accommodation, and all training venues will have everything in one location such as swimming pool, gym, indoor and outdoor pitches.

Players will not have to check out of their “home” hotels for “away” matches in the pool stages, they will simply vacate their rooms with minimal luggage for their trip.

Travel will be reduced to a minimum, in the pool stages 8 teams will remain at their home team base, playing all matches at their home venues, with the remaining 12 teams only having to travel “away” for one of their matches.

For the semi finals and finals all four teams will locate to Johannesburg for the final two weeks of the tournament.

Aside from player welfare, the weather (Averaged at 22 degrees in September and October) and beer were highlighted, with South Africa stating a beer worked out at £1,75 in their country, as opposed to £5.70 in France, and £4.25 in Ireland.

Because of the sheer size of all eight of the stadiums designated for use, more tickets would be on sale than at any other world cup, 2.9 million to be exact, 400,000 more than the England 2015 tournament.

The final would be played at the National Stadium in Johannesburg, which has a capacity of 87,436 making it potentially the largest ever Rugby World Cup Final in history.


South Africa last hosted the tournament in 1995, as if you needed reminding, and who will ever forget the two men that wore the green and gold number 6 shirt that day, a day enshrined in rugby history, but more importantly a day when rugby was the catalyst for uniting a country, a day when Francois Piennar lifted the pot of gold at the beginning of the rainbow nation.




Wales And Australia Lest We Forget

As the darkened leaves blew across the river Taff yesterday, it felt like a proper Autumn day in the Welsh capital.

A feeling of deja vu as yet again Wales faced the Wallabies, a fixture that used to be so rare, and exotic,but these days is an almost annual occurrence.

Sadly the deja vu also manifested itself in the result, a win for Australia.

But on November 11 it seemed appropriate to reflect on darker times, when Wales and Australia united and fought a much tougher battle on foreign fields, where many of them would pay the ultimate price.

I hope my roll call will continue to keep the names of these heroes alive, and remind us  that when all is said and done. there are actually much more important things in life than rugby and although this is something we all tend to forget at times, we will always remember the brave men listed below.




Richard Thomas

Born: Ferndale, 14 October 1883.

Killed in action : Mametz Wood 7 July 1916.
Wales: Four caps, 1906-1909.

John Lewis Williams
Born: Whitchurch, Cardiff, 3 January 1882.
Died of wounds: Corbie 12 July 1916.
Wales: 17 caps, 1906-1911.

David Westacott
Born: Cardiff, 10 October 1882.
Killed in action: Wieltje, 28 August 1917.
Wales: One cap, 1906.

Horace Wyndham Thomas
Born: Pentyrch, 28 July 1890.
Killed in action: Ancre, 3 September 1916.
Wales : Two caps, 1912-1913.

Richard Davies Garnons Williams
Born: Llowes, Radnorshire, 15 June, 1856.
Killed in Action: 25 September 1915 while leading his battalion at the Battle of Loos.
Wales: One cap, 1881.

Charles Gerald Taylor
Born: Ruabon, North Wales, 8 May 1863.
Killed in action: 24 January, 1915 at the Battle of Dogger Bank when his ship HMS Tiger was hit by fire from German cruiser SMS Blucher.
Wales: Ninecaps, 1884-1887.

Louis “Lou” Augustus Phillips
Born: Newport, Monmouthsire, 24 February 1878.
Killed in action: Cambrai, on 14 March 1916.
Wales: Four caps, 1900-1901.

Charles Mayrick Pritchard
Born: Newport, Monmouthshire, 30 September 1882
Died of wounds: 14 August, casualty clearing station, Western Front.
Wales: 14 caps, 1904-1910.

Phillip Dudley Waller
Born: Bath, Somerset, 28 January 1889.
Killed in action: Hit by shellfire, 14 December 1917, Arras.
Wales: Six caps, 1908-1910.

Brinley Richard Lewis
Born: 4, January 1891, Pontardawe.
Killed in action: 2 April, 1917 Ypres, France, hit by shellfire.
Wales: Two caps, 1912-193.

William “Billy” Purdon Geen
Born: 14 March 1891, Newport, Monmouthshire.
Killed in action: Hooge, Flanders, 31 July, 1915.
Wales: Three caps, 1912-1913.

Fred Leonard Perrett
Born: Briton Ferry, 9 May 1891.
Died of wounds: 1 December 1918, in a clearing station weeks after the armistice.
Wales: Five caps, 1912-1913

David Watts
Born: Maesteg 14 March 1886.
Killed in action : 14 July 1916 at Bazentin Ridge, France.
Wales: Four caps, 1914.


Cecil Rhys Davies  (1 Cap)

John R Evans   (1 Cap)

Maurice J.L. Turnbull   (2 Caps)


An estimated sixty Wallabies enlisted in the armed forces to fight in World War I


Blair Inskip Swannell   25 April 1915

Edward Rennix Larkin   25 April 1915

Harold Wesley George   10 May 1915

Frederick Herbert Thompson   29 May 1915

Arthur Verge   8 September 1915

George Harold Pugh   5 September 1916

Herbert Jones   4 November 1916

Clarence Wallach MC   22 April 1918

Bryan Desmond Hughes MC   6 August 1918

William George Tasker   9 August 1918

At least 139 Wallabies served in Word War II, including fourteen of the fifteen players that played in the last test against New Zealand, on 13 August 1938, six of this team lost their lives:


Michael Clifford     9 October 1942

Edwin Sautelle Hayes   12 January 1942

Eric Ebsworth Hutchinson  27 January 1943

Winston Phillip James Ide   12 September 1944

Russell Lindsay Frederick Kelly   25 December 1943

Frederick Raymond Kerr    23 April 1941

Clifford Walter Patrick Lang   4 March 1942

Kenelm McKenzie Ramsay   1 March 1942

Alhambra Nievas The Granada 1983 Vintage Is Still Breaking Down Barriers

Beas de Granada is located in one of the most beautiful places around Granada with panoramic views southwards towards the Sierra Navada.

The town is steeped in history from the time of the Roman Empire, where it grew from being a coach house at a crossroads, to becoming a farmstead with just twenty families when under Arab rule.

It is situated 1072 meters above sea level and is part of the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Huetor.

So what has this to do with rugby I hear you ask ?, well this delightful town is the family home of one of the world’s best rugby referees Alhambra Nievas.

The tractor driving, olive harvesting referee never forgets her roots, quite literally come harvest time, the olives have been plentiful as indeed has her rugby harvest.

Some referees like fine wine just seem to get better with age and this 1983 vintage shows no sign of deterioration and is looking better than ever.

Incorrectly listed, much to her delight, as 28 years of age in the official Womens Rugby World programme, Alhambra actually reached the tender age of 34 on the very day the tournament started in Dublin.

Taking charge of the World Cup semi final, at the Kingspan stadium, in Belfast, between New Zealand and USA was a huge thrill for her and her team, and undoubtedly yet another highlight of what has already been a glittering career.

The ultimate team player, it was wonderful to witness her genuine delight for friend and refereeing colleague, Joy Neville, when she was awarded the World Cup Final between England and New Zealand.

Radio, television and other commitments have made things hectic, after the tournament, with not much down time, and never one to rest on her laurels, Alhambra has successfully completed the World Rugby Educator Course, in Romania, resulting in global recognition as a trainer.

Anxious to give back to the sport what the game has given to her, the humble and modest

lady from Granada would not be aware that she has already given far more back to the game, to its values, and to encouraging young women in sport, than she could ever have received in return, but now she will able to officially use her talents to assist others intent on taking up the whistle, and in improving standards both regionally and internationally.

Once again we talk about another breakthrough for women in rugby, and once again Alhambra Nievas is involved.

On October 14th she will take charge, of Finland v Norway in the Rugby Europe International Championship, the first woman to referee a men’s game in this competition.

So whilst the folks back in Beas de Granada celebrate the pilgrimage to the chapel of the virgin del pilar del colmenar, along with the neighbouring residents of Huetor Santillan, Alhambra will be 2086 miles further north in Helsinki, preparing for the match.

It is doubly good news for women’s rugby as Joy Neville will referee the match between Norway and Denmark a few days later.

The breakthroughs don’t end there, in yet another first Alhambra will be the first non Commonwealth referee to officiate at the rugby 7s on the Gold Coast, Australia, in the Fifteenth Commonwealth Games next April.

Six nations duty will hopefully be on the cards after christmas, after her superb handing of last years decider in the Dublin monsoon, between Ireland and England, and then there is the mouth-watering prospect of the Rugby World Cup Sevens Tournament in San Francisco.

Before all that Alhambra, as well as attending to domestic refereeing duties in Spain, undertaking Women’s World Sevens duties in Dubai, and only last week was in Marcoussis, near  Paris, for two days, along with fellow whistling amigo Iñigo Atorrasagasti, as a member of the panel of referees for the prestigious European competitions under the auspices of the EPCR.

Unlike many fine wines the 1983 vintage travels well, but there is no doubt that the native soil of Beas de Granada beneath her feet gives her the perfect balance to the busy grassy rugby fields of the world.

Vamos amigo