AN EXCITED crowd of more than 1,500 flocked to the historic pitch where the game of rugby was born on Sunday (March 5) to watch England play Wales in a women’s U18s international match.
Organised by the RFU as part of the celebrations marking 200 years since the creation of the game at Rugby School, the match was the first women’s U18s international to be held on The Close – and was live-streamed by England Rugby to a further 20,000 viewers worldwide.
Spectators from the town crowd joined loyal supporters of the two teams, who made the most of their inaugural game on the hallowed ground.
Rugby School students Tirion Gimlette and Naomi Simon, the 2023 BBC Young Chorister of the Year, took centre stage to sing the two national anthems to start the game, while local children were selected to act as ball boys and girls.
The 70-minute match resulted in England winning 48-5, with all players being awarded 2023 Birthplace of the Game medals from ex-England player and former World Rugby Union Player of the Year Emily Scarratt MBE, WRU Lead Female Age Grade Coach Liza Burgess, former Welsh international Matthew Robinson, and Rugby School Executive Head Master Peter Green.
Peter said: “During the last 200 years, The Close at Rugby School has played host to many historic games, and the first meeting between the U18 Wales and England women’s teams was no exception.
“The atmosphere, a large, vocal crowd and some fantastic rugby created a landmark day for women’s rugby.
“This event will provide inspiration and impetus for all girls who aspire to play great rugby.”
Matthew added: “It was a great privilege to be here to see Wales and England U18 women’s international – some fantastic talent on display with free-flowing rugby on a beautiful pitch at Rugby School.
“Both senior women’s teams are in good hands, and all bodes well for the future for both sides.”
The match was the first in a series of events on The Close organised to celebrate the bicentenary of the game, with the next being the International U18s Sevens tournament on March 25 and 26 featuring 20 teams from around the world. Every match throughout the year will be live-streamed by NextGenXV.
Visit www.rugbyschool.co.uk/200-anniversary/events for a full list of 2023 Celebration matches, exhibitions and events, each of which will be linked to a rugby-related charity.
Match report – by Becca Bantoft
The game got off to a fast start with Lucy Ward scoring for England within the first three minutes.
Making the most of the historic pitch, both teams played an expansive fast game. England followed up with a beautiful try by Vice Captain Daisy Aspinall in the eighth minute, after some great passing and model game playing.
From a Welsh line out, Molly Wakely, Wales’ number two, put points on the board with a great try resulting from a strong Welsh maul. However, England put Wales’ hopes further adrift with a try from Ella Cromack, the English number 14, who successfully went on to convert her try – the first successful conversion of the match.
Despite some tough defending by Wales, helped by a great kick from Welsh full back Carys Hughes, a rolling maul from England resulted in a fourth try, scored by Heidi Pashaei Tarighoun and converted by Daisy Aspinall. A speedy run from Connie Clarke helped set up another lightning-fast try for Daisy Aspinall which was then converted, taking the score to 31-5 at half time.
Wales proved tougher opposition in the second half but that didn’t stop Connie Clarke scoring a try, taking the score to 36-5, and she quickly followed up with another to give England an almost unassailable lead.
With two Welsh players in the sin bin after being shown yellow cards, England weren‘t able to capitalise on this advantage with another score. But shortly afterwards Millie David ran from deep in the Welsh 22 to score a fantastic final try for the game thus sealing a victory for England. One to watch, Millie switched from dancing to rugby aged 11, and her family were present to watch her success.
The inaugural meeting between these two teams was tougher than the score line of 48-5 suggests. A chance to play on The Close was a great first game for these young teams and brings women’s rugby to the forefront of the 200th anniversary of the game.