Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Attitudes are changing - Street

Latest rugby union news

England's World Cup victory has helped dispel a host of myths about women's rugby, according to head coach Gary Street.

Street believes the game is ready for professionalism after England's 21-9 victory over Canada in Paris on Sunday.

England's squad of plumbers, teachers and policewomen will be back at work later this week, after claiming a first world crown to end the pain of three previous final defeats.

Street believes the rugby world is finally taking the women's game seriously, with a growing list of influential and celebrity supporters.

"We had a lovely text from Prince Harry congratulating us and we had a nice message from the Prime Minister too," said Street.

"Things like that were really quite special.

"We had a nice text from Jonny Wilkinson before the final as well, saying 'go and win it'.

"So that shows how things have changed.

"I think times really have changed."

Street has been coaching in the women's game for 20 years, and admitted it is only now that even high-ranking rugby administrators are catching on to the appeal.

"I was talking to someone from the IRB during the tournament," he said.

"When I first met him, 10 years ago, he thought it was a nonsense and that it shouldn't be played.

"But he called me over after the final and was shocked.

"He had no comprehension that women's rugby looked like that.

"He told me he watched Top 14 rugby every week and it's terrible to watch.

"He'd gone from somebody who thought women shouldn't play rugby at all to somebody who'd rather watch women's rugby to men's.

"That shows how far we'd come.

"Young girls want to be Maggie Alphonsi and Emily Scarratt.

"You don't have to be a women's rugby fan anymore to know some of the best players in the world, regardless of gender."

The bulk of England's amateur squad negotiated 107 days' unpaid leave to join a relentless World Cup camp.

Plumber Marlie Packer swapped home town Yeovil for London a year ago, to be closer to the RFU's Twickenham base.

The 24-year-old flanker is adamant the time has come where professionalism must be a realistic aim for the sport.

The number of women and girls playing rugby in England has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

The RFU aims to add another 10,000 to the 18,000 current registered players by 2017.

Packer will return to work on Thursday with relish, but conceded she would never turn down a crack at professional rugby.

"I won't know what I'm doing until they send the job down: it could be a blocked toilet, a leaking pipe under the floor, changing a tap washer, you never know," she said.

"Nothing is ever the same, which is the part I love about my job - the same as a rugby game, no game is ever the same. I do love the plumbing work and I'll always keep my hand in, because rugby's not going to be there forever. That's my future.

"But if I was offered a pro contract, I'd take it, most definitely.

"The sacrifices of some of the girls are incredible, it just shows how much becoming a world champion means to them."

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