Alex Payne, the host of Sky Sports' coverage of Women's
Rugby World Cup 2010, gives rwcwomens.com his thoughts on a
tournament which climaxes with the mouth-watering final between
hosts England and three-time defending champions New Zealand.
RWCWOMENS.COM: What have you made of the tournament so far?
ALEX PAYNE: To be honest, I'd watched a bit of
Women's Rugby on television, but the opening day of the
tournament was the first international I had ever seen live, I
wasn't there in the autumn at Twickenham for the England-New
Zealand match which we also covered.
I think all of us have been really impressed. It has been an outstanding tournament, with some talented players and a lot of great rugby along the way. It has also all been played in a great spirit, which I think has shone through.
There have been some fantastic stories. If you have been following the tournament it is hard not to look past the Black Ferns, who have been very much the standard bearers in the Women's Game. England too have looked impressive but the presence of Kazakhstan, Sweden's return after 12 years, South Africa's unexpected victory over Wales and the growing force of Canada and the USA have all added to the event.
The qualification of the best runner up for the semi finals also fried a few brains in our stats truck - we were down to the fourth criteria before Australia scored with the final play to guarantee their place ahead of Canada.
RWCWOMENS.COM: What matches or players have stood out for you personally?
ALEX PAYNE: In terms of tension, the England v Australia semi final was in the balance for most of the game, the Wallaroos just didn't give in. But the best game we have shown was England v USA, the final pool game. It was a glorious evening, a sold out crowd and a vibrant atmosphere. Anyone who had not seen Women's Rugby before and tuned in can only have been impressed. The physicality and intensity was of the highest order but England weathered the storm and their experience saw them through.
In terms of players, well Nolli (Danielle) Waterman has been one
of the shining lights for the hosts. Carla Hohepa for the Black
Ferns and her teammate Huriana Manuel have a superb understanding
of the game too, and make it all look effortlessly easy. It is
difficult, though, to look past Maggie Alphonsi as the star player
so far and for England she has potentially been the difference in
some games. I think she is probably the best player in Women's
Rugby right now in terms of her influence, although some of the
Black Ferns may disagree with that.
RWCWOMENS.COM: One of the memorable moments of the tournament must be the Nicole Beck tackle on Fiona Pocock in the semi finals?
ALEX PAYNE: We were actually in the studio with former England full back Vicky McCormack and Tyrone Howe, it was the first women's game that Tyrone had ever seen live and he was talking about the Nicole Beck hit on Fiona Pocock for about 15 minutes. We kept seeing it on TV but even for Tyrone, who was a British and Irish Lion, it was an eye watering moment. The one great shame is that it ended Fiona's World Cup, she'd had a great tournament and deserved her place in the final.
RWCWOMENS.COM: What can we expect from the final on Sunday?
ALEX PAYNE: Well it is the final everyone expected, for all the good rugby that has been played England and New Zealand have just been that step ahead. It means we have a final with the two most powerful nations in the Women's Game, which should make for a great occasion.
New Zealand start pretty clear favourites, they have played some quality rugby along the way and in terms of skill levels from one to 22 in their match day squad they are all comfortable with the ball, they all know what they are doing. But they've yet to be properly tested.
England have had a tougher campaign, Ireland and the USA played well against them and I'm sure they will have a few concerns off the back of the semi final which they will have tried to sort in the four-day turnaround.
But Gary Street's side have been dreaming of this
opportunity since the last World Cup. They are battle hardened but
will also know they cannot afford to make many mistakes. That means
starting well, which no side has managed to do against the Black
Ferns at this World Cup. They need to pressurise the Black
Ferns' set piece and breakdown and take their chances. They do
also have the psychological boost of having beaten the Black Ferns
last November, which few teams can say.
If England get everything right then they have a good chance, especially with home support.
RWCWOMENS.COM: England certainly aren't going to want a third loss to New Zealand?
ALEX PAYNE: Of course not. I'm sure England will be simmering from those defeats, but I don't know how much that will play into their minds in the run up, maybe for those who have lost on both occasions. But this is about the here and now.
I don't know, maybe most neutrals ... although I know most neutrals don't necessarily like England to succeed ... but as a tournament you want to see new names on the trophy and new story lines.
The Black Ferns are going for four titles in a row, which would
be a record and an incredible achievement - they haven't lost a
World Cup game since the semi final in 1991! But for the
development of the Women's Game maybe it would be good if
England won, it would certainly do wonders in this country and
hopefully also on a wider scale.
RWCWOMENS.COM: How has the tournament been from Sky Sports' perspective?
ALEX PAYNE: Well, from a personal point of view I
have loved it, it has been really nice to get out and do something
new. Our viewers are very familiar our Premiership, Heineken Cup
and International coverage but it has been a great experience to
bring them something fresh, a whole new story.
It has been a high point of the summer for us. As well as covering 13 games live the tournament has had coverage on Sky Sports News and skysports.com. It is a World Cup after all so we've obviously put the works into it, from the HD coverage to the huge team behind the scenes who make everything happen. It has been important for us and for the tournament to do it as well as we can and I hope people have enjoyed the coverage. The Women's Game has grown significantly in a short space of time, I'm sure four years time will be bigger and better again.