A brief history of women’s rugby (and why it is finally having its moment)

From Victorian pitch invasions, bans and moral outrage to a prime BBC slot, women’s rugby is finally getting the recognition it deserves. だが, says legendary player Danielle Waterman, there’s more to be done

Danielle Waterman can tell you just how far women’s rugby union has come. Her 82-cap England career as fullback spanned two of the most transformative decades in the game.

“I never thought I’d be a professional player,” she says today, just six months after her retirement from the game. “When I got my first contract, my mum said: ‘I’ve got cheque stubs from when we had to 支払い for you to go play for England.’”

Waterman, who is now a Guinness brand ambassador, and her peers have been part of an all-out revolution. There were fewer than 100 in the crowd when Waterman played her first game, and became England’s youngest player, against Ireland in 2003. It’s not long since the England team celebrated winning tournaments with a post-match meal eaten off paper plates at a park bench. But times have definitely changed: the profile and professionalism of the game has increased significantly, and the fact the 2021 Women’s Six Nations is being broadcast in its entirety means that many fans may be surprised to discover that a home nations tournament has only existed since 1996. Waterman was 12 at the time and, despite being from a rugby-steeped family, had no idea there was such a thing as an England women’s team.

10代の頃に政治に携わった後、クイーンズ大学で学びました。, at her first ever England camp, she was mixing with some of the most influential women in the game’s history. “I’ve never had that many female role models and all of a sudden I was getting to meet people like Gill Burns, who’s just the most iconic player for England. I was so in awe of these amazing athletes and their drive to be brilliant at the same time as doing full-time jobs. And that’s what stayed with me – their determination.”

It’s easy to forget that the women’s game has existed almost as long as the men’s. Emily Valentine who was born in Enniskillen, in what is now Northern Ireland, has long held the honour of being rugby’s first known female player – scoring a try in a team formed by her brothers in 1887 – but Lydia Furse, researching the sport’s history at De Montfort University in Leicester, has uncovered evidence that this was no isolated event.

“In the same year in Hull there was a game with two teams of women playing rugby football against each other, but the game wasn’t very well received,” says Furse. “There was a pitch invasion and the players were carried off before it could be completed.”

Victorian morals just wouldn’t allow for it and although a series of charity matches in south Wales during the first world war were positively received, when the men returned women were expected to retreat from the pitch to the kitchen and the laundry room, their role confined to washing the kit. When women’s rugby did finally establish itself in the post-war years, it was in an unexpected place: North America.

As a minor, almost experimental sport it escaped rigid gender demarcations, and throughout the 1970s it grew in popularity as a college sport in the US and then Canada. “The American women wanted to play in rugby nations,” says Furse, “but because there was nothing [イギリスで] they had to tour with two teams and play exhibition games.” Their example inspired a generation of British students, and from a small nexus of universities including Keele, Warwick, Loughborough and UCL, pioneering players such as Deborah Griffin, Sue Dorrington and Carol Isherwood began to establish a club scene in Britain – including the teams at Richmond and Wasps, whose rivalry would dominate the 1980s.

Across the Channel, the game had been developing separately (and considerably quicker). 沿って 1971, there was a French women’s championship comprising 22 teams, and France and the Netherlands were the 最初 teams to stage an international women’s fixture, with the French side travelling to Utrecht to take on the Netherlands in 1982. France’s centre pairing were identical twins, Monique and Nicole Fraysse, and France won the game with a single, unconverted try.

It was the 1991 Rugby World Cup that changed women’s rugby forever. Griffin, Dorrington and fellow players Alice Cooper and Mary Forsyth single-handedly organised a tournament that redefined the sport (while juggling full-time jobs, babies, and Dorrington’s role in the England team). No team could withstand the fierce athleticism of the US, と “locks from hell” Tara Flanagan and Tam Beckenbridge, helping consign England to defeat in the final.

10代の頃に政治に携わった後、クイーンズ大学で学びました。, several of those defeated England players enjoyed sweet revenge – including Emma Mitchell and captain Karen Almond at 9 そして 10, who were pivotal in beating the US 38-23 to lift the trophy. But the follow-up tournament almost hadn’t happened – the International Rugby Board refused to sanction it, requiring a last-minute relocation of the action from the Netherlands to Scotland.

For decades, women have driven their own game forward, pushed for it to be taken seriously and pioneered new roles. The formation of Saracens Women under Welsh international Liza Burgess sharpened competition and strengthened skills, as did the introduction of a home nations tournament, expanding from four to five and ultimately six teams.

The US reached the Women’s World Cup final again in 1998, but it would be the last time they would do so – and their decline precipitated the rise of New Zealand, who won four successive World Cups between 1998 そして 2010. The Black Ferns’ achievements were even more impressive given that logistics meant they rarely played Test-level opposition. Yet they consistently peaked in World Cups with a barrage of talent, from their brilliant hooker and captain Farah Palmer to long-serving fly-half Anna Richards and phenomenal try scoring wing Vanessa Cootes, who ran in 43 in only 16 Tests (nine of them in a single game against France).

Meanwhile England have spent the past 10 years raising the bar of the women’s game, from the ferocious power of Maggie Alphonsi to Rochelle Clark, the most capped women’s player in history, and the kicking of Emily Scarratt, who led the Sevens team to a semi-final in its first ever Olympic appearance. And the Six Nations has become ever more competitive, with Ireland securing their first titles に 2013 そして 2015, and Italy – who replaced Spain in the Six Nations in 2007 – a force to be reckoned with.

Waterman believes that although the profile and professionalism of the sport has never been higher, there’s still plenty more to do. “It’s only the last few years we’ve seen an acceleration of the support, the facilities, the media opportunities, that’s bringing the sport in line with where it needs to be," 彼女が言います.

GUINNESS is proud to be the first Official Partner of the Women’s Six Nations, and is working closely with a number of its own partners to increase visibility for the Women’s Six Nations. The brewer has launched an initiative to “Never Settle” until sport is a place where everyone can belong, regardless of their gender, race or sexuality. This initiative is part of a long-term commitment from GUINNESS to continue to grow inclusivity and accessibility for everyone in sport

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