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Monday Apr 15, 2024

Exclusive Opinion: Former England captain slams decision to reduce ball size

Just last week, World Rugby announced plans to introduce smaller balls into the women’s game as part of a trial to enhance the sport. The idea is to make the ball easier to hold and reduce knock-ons, as well as explore the potential benefits that a smaller ball can make to the kicking game.

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The reception to the proposed alterations has been mixed, with England women’s head coach John Mitchell claiming the “women’s playing community are quite divided.”

There have been claims that the smaller ball size will help provide a better spectacle for fans, with improved passing and accuracy, whilst others have claimed that the size reduction will undermine a game that has made vast progress in recent years.

The change being proposed would reduce the existing size 5 ball down to a size 4.5 – marking a difference of roughly 3% in size and weight.

Speaking to RugbyDump, former England captain, and now respected school teacher, Catherine Spencer has provided her own opinion on the matter. The 63-cap former international, and winner of the Rugby Union Writers Club Award in 2010, has taken a clear stance on the matter, leading with the message: “Leave our game alone”.

Hear what she has had to say:

Do you think the women’s game should alter the size of the ball?

“I have no doubt in my mind that the size of the ball should be the same in the women’s and men’s game. On the pitch we are seeing some great rugby being played with high skill levels; why change?

“I watched a lower league club game at the weekend. Not once did I think that the size of the ball was a hindrance. Not once did I hear such comments from any of the crowd. At international level we are seeing huge audiences in stadiums around the world, through online platforms and on TV and radio. Things are going really well. Why change?

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“In clubs around the world teams are dependent upon shared resources. I have been to those clubs. Please do not change. Away from the pitch it is hugely validating, powerful and pure to be able to state that the women’s game is played to the same laws, on the same sized pitch and with the same ball. This is a really good thing. I have witnessed the power of this. From the bottom of my heart, please don’t change. For this last reason alone I wholeheartedly do not support a change let alone a trial.”

Are there any benefits to reducing the size of the ball?

“For some women it might be a benefit to reduce the size of the ball. For some women it would not be. For some men it might be a benefit to reduce the size of the ball, for some it would not be. Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes; the magic is where the different skill sets are gelled together and how we adapt to suit different aspects of the game. That is the beauty of rugby. No need to change the ball.

“There is an argument that kicking will be improved if the ball size is reduced. I believe that the science is questionable here. Alongside this there is some great kicking in the women’s game. There is some poor kicking in the women’s game. This same statement can be made for the men’s game. I would also hazard a guess that I am not the only person to have switched off a game of men’s rugby because there is too much kicking!”

England’s Captain Catherine Spencer looks on following the defeat to New Zealand in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 Final at Twickenham Stoop Stadium, southwest London, on September 5, 2010. New Zealand won the game 13-10. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Should the men’s and women’s game run alongside each other, or should there be a clear separation?

“I wrote in an article in The Rugby paper several years ago that the women’s 6 Nations either had to be fully integrated or the women’s game should step away from the shadows of the men’s game. It has stepped away and it is absolutely blooming! The introduction of more women’s teams to established men’s brands like Exeter has been a success. TV channels are now fighting over the women’s game. Please do not change.”

ASHBOURNE, IRELAND – MARCH 18: An emotional former England captain, Catherine Spencer (R) is congratulated by team mate Francesca Matthews after playing her final match after their Grand Slam win the victory in the Womens Six Nations match between Ireland and England at Ashbourne Rugby Club on March 18, 2011 in Ashbourne, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Are there any changes you would make to the game instead of altering the ball size?

“I would not make any changes at this stage. Sometimes change is made for changes sake. Power is in recognising strength. Please do not change.”

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