A PLAYING tour of the Isle of Man took a disappointing twist for a 22-strong squad from Tavistock Ladies' rugby team.

The players, from all over West Devon, had spent six months arranging their tour and were looking forward to getting to grips with their opposite numbers in the island's Vagabonds Rugby Club.

But when the West Devon women arrived for their weekend of sport they were told: 'Sorry, we can't let you play.'

The travelling sportswomen had fallen foul of Manx fears that foot and mouth might spread to the island from Devon.

Amanda Blackmore, press officer for the Tavistock squad and their No 8, said: 'It was so disappointing — we travelled all the way there by road and then by ferry from Heysham to Douglas only to be told they would not let us play.'

The women had checked into their bed and breakfast accommodation on the island when they were contacted by the club to say that the two arranged games would have to be scrapped because of fears that it could lead to the spread of foot and mouth.

Amanda said they had telephoned almost every day since the crisis started to check whether the tour could go ahead and had been told it would be fine.

'We had been through disinfectant mats on boarding the ferry and again when we reached Douglas. We would have done anything they asked to make it possible to play but they said the decision had been made. All the training pitches were out of bounds and so was the astro-turf.'

Vagabonds RFC committee member Chris Taggart said the club was as disappointed as Tavistock that the games could not go ahead. He said that at the last minute, the Manx government's veterinary officer had faxed the club strongly advising that as the players were from West Devon the games should be cancelled.

'When we received his advice it was too late for us to stop the Tavistock ladies as they were by then on the ferry or even arriving at Douglas.'

Mr Taggart said the island had no cases of foot and mouth and was doing all it could to keep the disease at bay. 'If we had ignored the advice we would have been in serious trouble with the authorities. It's a bit twitchy over here at the moment.'

Mr Taggart said the Tavistock women met their Vagabond opponents socially and it was hoped they might meet each other on the pitch at some future date.

So what did the Tavistock women get up to during their weekend?

Prop Claire White, who helped organise the visit, said they watched the England v Scotland International on the television — and spent some time in the pub.

'It was still a good weekend,' she said.