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.”

Last Tango In Lille

The similarities between Buenos Aires and Lille are few and far between, but a juicy steak and a glass of Malbec, pre match in Northern France, can fool the senses, and the emotions, prior to an exciting encounter at Stade Pierre Mauroy between Los Pumas and Les Blues.

A late Saturday night kick off, as they love to do in France, a time back home, in Argentina, more suited to dancing, and particularly the tango.

The tango developed in the working class neighbourhoods at the end of the 19th century, its lyrics speak of  nostalgia, sadness and a lament of lost love

The Pumas have been in a tango state of mind since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where they showed us their “moves”, but have been somewhat out of step since that wonderful tournament.

However just lately there are signs that they have re discovered their rhythm under their new conductor Mario Ledesma.

On a freezing cold night under the roof of  Stade Pierre Mauroy France ended their losing streak of five consecutive defeats and tamed the Pumas.

They say it takes two to tango, and the dazzling dancing feet of Teddy Thomas and Bautista Delguy bedazzled onlookers with moments of beauty amidst the brutality.

The physicality of two nations, for whom the scrum is a proud and noble art, and even in these enlightened times a personification of pride and manhood, provided an antidote to the beauty and elegance of the dancing “Ailiers”

The two hookers, and opposing captains Guilhem Guirado and Augustine Creevy may not look suited to the subtle and lithe moves of the tango, but as bouncers on the door of Bar Los Laureles i’m pretty sure you’d have no problem with gatecrashers.

The Opening two minutes saw Argentina score a try through Ramiro Moyana and lose full back Maxime Medard through injury.

Teddy Thomas scored a wonderful try for France on twenty five minutes who led narrowly at half time 11-10.

In the second half les Bleus found their dancing shoes Teddy Thomas, the Lord of the dance, made it a two-step with his second try after 48 minutes following a Fickou fandango, and the big man Guilhem Guirado glided over in the 70th minute.

Mathieu Bastareaud was a monster in midfield, no tango for him, more of a can-can with attitude but no less exhilarating to watch.

In the end the warm passionate tango we anticipated was more of gentleman’s excuse me, there were brief bursts of back play from France that made your heart skip a beat, on their day come next years World Cup they will be a serious threat.

In the meantime on a cold winters night as midnight approached and the players completed their media duties,  thoughts turned fleetingly to 21 September 2019 when these two next face each other, at Tokyo Stadium in the Rugby World Cup.

“Es Hora de Tango”

Bears Clawed Back By Grizzly Quins

A nerve jangling, jaw dropping, pulsating final four minutes brought the home crowd to fever pitch, many checking the location of the nearest defibrillator, as Quins completed an escape act that Houdini would have struggled to match.

With the clock in the red those that had the courage to watch could only do so peering through their fingers, yet Ellie Green was as cool as the vegetable whose colour matched her surname, nailing a conversion to earn Quins what had looked twelve minutes earlier a highly improbable outcome.

Harlequins Ladies v Bristol Bears kicked off at 5.30pm at Twickenham Stoop, and as the low autumn sun began to set in West London, the dewy grass and cool air provided the perfect habitat for the Bears to come out to play

Not normally migratory creatures, the trip up the M4 may well have taken them out of their comfort zone, but a blistering start saw them rack up 26 points, including four tries, a glorious individual effort from Elinor Snowsill being the pick of the bunch, the holders of the Wales number 10 jersey have sorcery in their DNA thats for sure.

It was a first half during which Quins never really got going, they committed far too many errors, and when you add some inconsistent refereeing into the equation, the home side were left with a mountain to climb, as they went in to the half time break nineteen points in arrears.

The second half was a different story with Quins dominating territory and possession, the Bears hadn’t exactly gone into hibernation but they were certainly nursing sore heads as wave after wave of attacks reigned upon them.

Leah Lyons & Shaunagh Brown smashed around the breakdown like a pair of mad Bulls, and on the 46th minute Davina Catlin crashed over for a try to narrow the deficit to 12-26.

With 75 minutes on the clock a fourteen point gap looked unreachable, but not for this bunch, and the Ellie Green show was about to start.

She scored a wonderful try on 76 minutes which she duly converted to make the score 19-26.

Bristol restarted and time was up, but with the ball alive Quins had one more shot, after several phases Lucy Packer went over, and cucumber cool Ellie slotted the conversion to give Quins a share of the spoils, as the stoop crowd gave a collective roar, and checked their pulse rates.

The two points for the draw, plus a try scoring bonus point, could prove to be vital come the spring when qualification for the semi finals is at stake.

There were plenty of positives, the sign of a good side is one that grinds out a result when playing not particularly well, also the senior players were extremely vocal and held it all together as the new partnerships and combinations bed in, which enevitably takes time.

Also Quins did not concede a single point from the thirty eighth minute onwards.

This squad will never give up and never give in, and when everything clicks, then we will all be in for a real treat.

I’ve never had to queue to get out of a women’s rugby match before, Saturday at the Stoop may have ended in a draw, but there was one convincing winner, the women’s game itself.

Harlequins Ladies This Is Their Time

Rachel Burford has descended from the Cape Town mists engulfing table mountain, Deborah McCormack has packed away her surfboard at Bondi beach, and Leanne Riley has recovered from her lung busting Tour de France cycle stage.

As the scorching summer sun falls gently towards Autumn, the brown arid playing fields have turned back into the green green grass of home, and we find ourselves on the very cusp of another Tyrrells Premier 15s season.

The disappointment of an agonisingly narrow loss in last seasons final has been put to bed, gone but certainly not forgotten, and it will provide extra motivation, for players management and fans, if any were needed, for the new campaign.

Even in summer training you could sense and feel the determination to go one better this season, and as the sessions have increased in their intensity, the squad are looking fitter than ever, there is an eager freshness and anticipation, everyone can’t wait for the season to start.

Gary Street and Karen Findlay are shrewd cookies, never resting on their laurels, and constantly evolving training methods and routines, there is so much going on at their sessions it is difficult to keep up, but it is this attention to detail and the constant freshness they impart, that gives the playing group such great preparation.

Quins start their 2018/19 Tyrrells Premier 15s campaign away to Gloucester Hartbury on September 8, before they entertain Bristol Bears, at Twickenham Stoop, on Saturday 15 September, a 5.30pm kick off, following the mens premiership match against Bath.

Further matches at the Stoop will take place against Saracens, Wasps, and Richmond, with the remaining home league fixtures taking place at Surrey Sports Park, in Guildford.

Fresh faces of real quality have been brought in during the off-season including Scottish international Jade Konkel and Irish prop sensation Leah Lyons.

Harlequins will inevitably be one of the “big scalps” that always make opponent raise their own game, and there is no doubt there will be a huge improvement from many of the sides that did not challenge for honours last season.

As Autumn light fades into winter darkness there will be some some huge battles ahead, times of joy, and times of having to dig deep, lie ahead in an effort to ensure that when the days lengthen in early spring, they are in the driving seat for a home semi final.

All that is long way off as the group head to Gloucester on Saturday, the road is long with many a winding turn and I for one will be delighted and privileged to join them on their journey maybe for Harlequins ladies, this is their time.

Cyathea Medullaris Engulf Wallaroos In Garden Of Eden

With a title like that it would appear that I have lost the plot, well let me explain.

Cyathea medullaris is the Latin name for the Black Fern, a plant indigenous to, you’d never guess, New Zealand.

The women’s rugby variety defeated a gutsy Wallaroos team in the second instalment of the Trans-Tasman series, with Australia losing to the reigning World Champions, New Zealand 17-45 on Saturday afternoon at Eden Park.

With the gusty Auckland wind behind them, it didn’t take long for the Black Ferns  pack to assume control and following a TMO review in the third minute, NZ prop Aldora Itunu got was awarded a try to give the home side a 0-5 lead.

The Black Ferns utilised their  pack to gain an early advantage, scoring a second try at the hands of Pip Love, to further extend the lead, taking the score to 0-12.

The Aussies struck back after a great step from Wallaroo’s flyhalf Trilleen Pomare off the back of a maul saw the visitors touchdown, with Australia trailing 5-12 fifteen minutes into the match.

An impressive defensive effort from the Wallaroos managed to contain New Zealand but under constant pressure they conceded penalties and eventually Black Ferns lock  Eloise Blackwell crossed over in the corner to increase the lead to 5-19.

With seconds remaining in the first half, Wallaroos Captain, Liz Patu, powered her way over for a try, taking the score to 10-19 at the break.

The second half saw New Zealand continue to ask questions of the Wallaroos defence with an opening try from the Black Ferns outside centre Theresa Fitzpatrick.

Kendra Cocksedge followed with another try, taking advantage of Wallaroo Emily Robinson’s sin binning to extend the score to 10-33.

31 Test cap veteran winger Renee Wickliffe then touched down taking New Zealand’s lead to 38 – 10, and almost immediately wing, Selica Winiata crossed the whitewash taking the score line to 45 – 10.

Australia’s  Hana Ngaha coming fresh off the bench had the final say, driving over in the corner, to close the gap, with Fenella Hake adding the coversion, the match finishing 17-45.

3 mins: Aldora Itunu try AUS 0–5 NZ

11 mins: Pip Love try Kendra Cocksedge con AUS 0–12 NZ
16 mins: Trilleen Pomare try AUS 5–12 NZ
21 mins: Eloise Blackwell try Kendra Cocksedge con AUS 5–19 NZ
40 mins: Liz Patu try AUS 10–19 NZ
44 mins: Theresa Fitzpatrick try Kendra Cocksedge AUS 10–26 NZ
50 mins: Emily Robinson Yellow Card
50 mins: Kendra Cocksedge try Kendra Cocksedge AUS 10–33 NZ
58 mins: Renee Wickliffe try AUS 10–38 NZ
66 mins: Selica Winiata try Kendra Cocksedge AUS 10–45 NZ
71 mins: Hana Ngaha try Fenella Hake con AUS 17–NZ 45

Jacinda Ardern NZ Prime Minister Presents The Trophy

Buildcorp Wallaroos:
1. Emily Robinson, 2. Liz Patu (C), 3. Evelyn Horomia, 4. Michelle Milward, 5. Rebecca Clough, 6. Emily Chancellor, 7. Georgia O’Neill, 8. Grace Hamilton, 9. Cobie-jane Morgan, 10. Trilleen Pomare, 11. Samantha Treherne, 12. Sarah Riordan, 13. Atasi Lafai, 14. Mhicca Carter, 15. Mahalia Murphy, 16. Darryl Wickliffe, 17. Melissa Fatu, 18. Hana Ngaha, 19. Alisha Hewett, 20. Kiri Lingman, 21. Fenella Hake, 22. Crystal Maguire, 23. Shanice Parker.

Black Ferns:
1. Pip Love, 2. Fiao’o Faamausili (C), 3. Aldora Itunu, 4. Eloise Blackwell, 5. Charmaine Smith, 6. Charmaine McMenamin, 7.Les Elder, 8. Aroha Savage, 9. Kendra Cocksedge, (VC), 10. Ruahei Demant, 11. Alena Saili, 12. Theresa Fitzpatrick, 13. Stacey Waaka, 14.Renee Wickliffe, 15. Selica Winiata (VC) 16. Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, 17. Cristo Tofa, 18. Leilani Perese/Aleisha Nelson, 19. Jackie Patea-Fereti, 20. Linda Itunu, 21. Kristina Sue, 22. Krysten Cottrell, 23. Chelsea Alley