CONGRATULATIONS AND CELEBRATIONS
On Tuesday the ‘i’ magazine published a letter from a woman reader complaining: ‘The England Women’s rugby team won their match at Twickenham, but no report. This is disappointing. Women play sport too!’
Well, I know how she feels and it’s unlike the little sister of the Independent to fail in this respect, but particularly after the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010, the recent London Olympics, and now England Women’s recent successes over the touring New Zealand Black Ferns, the point really shouldn’t need to be made.
I first came into contact with women’s rugby just before the 2002 Women’s Rugby World Cup held in Barcelona, with the first match I saw being at Worcester when England took on Spain. Before that like many other rugby followers I probably wasn’t particularly aware that women played the sport, but photographing that game made me a convert. The match itself suffered from being played in foggy conditions that would almost certainly have meant it would have been called off had it been a men’s international. Indeed there were periods of the game when the players couldn’t be seen at all, relieved by moments when a bouncing ball would emerge from a white blanket of fog to be followed by pursuing white or red clad players. But two things in particular stand out in my memory: the sight of a fierce hand-off of a Spanish player from an England forward (Teresa Andrews) which illustrated the commitment of the players, and the relaxed conviviality after the match when players, friends and relatives supporters mingled freely – not something that you would expect to find in the modern men’s game.
The latter has always been a significant feature of the women’s game played at all levels. With parents supporting their daughters, and sometimes even mothers and fathers together who life had separated in other ways; just another example of how rugby can bring people together.
From that moment I was hooked, and soon photographing women’s rugby became a major part of the photography year for rugbymatters.net. An expertise later recognised when ‘Rugby Times’ weekly magazine invited me to do a regular report on women’s rugby. Probably a first for the game, having a column dedicated to the women’s sport in a national weekly. And it was while reporting for Rugby Times that I experienced for myself the full verbal hand-off treatment at Clifton from a Kiwi, one Becky Hull, who took exception when the report in Rugby Times read that she hoped to play for England, my copy to the Editor of course had said quite the opposite. But then never let the truth stand in the way of a good story! Becky, later on Rebecca Mahoney, was to fulfill her ambitions when she helped the Black Ferns win the 2010 World Cup.
Well, the sport has duly moved on, with Women’s Rugby Sevens now an Olympic Sport and with regular meetings between the world’s best teams: Next year England are to undertake a tour of New Zealand, the World Sevens Cup in Russia, and with a vibrant Six Nations Tournament to come, everything bodes well for the continuing success of the women’s branch of the sport. The RFU in particular appear to be aware of the pitfalls that could befall the women’s game, and as Rosie Williams, the then managing director of the Rugby Football Union for Women (now Head of Local Rugby Delivery at the RFU), said: ‘The priority for women’s rugby is to raise awareness, rather than to turn the game professional or to maximise the amount of commercial sponsorship that can be pulled in, which could place undue obligations on the sport. She added: ‘The future is incredibly bright for the women’s game, because the competition we have developed at all levels, including at international level, is robust.’
So congratulations to all involved: officials, helpers paid and unpaid, and supporters. This coming Friday evening there is to be a celebration of the RFUW (now integrated with the RFU since July 2012) to be held above a pub in Twickenham. And there will be every justification in the celebrations for those in attendance as well as those unable to attend, following as it does a weekend that saw England‘s Women complete a 3 nil whitewash over touring World Champions the New Zealand Black Ferns. Lissy and Andree will be attending for rugbymatters.net (watch out for those sneaky snaps) and for my part, although the RFUW may no longer exist, my framed ‘RFUW Honorary Life Member Certificate’ will retain pride of place here in the office.
Women’s Rugby was born in Great Britain in the late 70s with teams established through the universities and until 1994 the Women’s Rugby Football Union (WRFU) had responsibility for rugby in all of the home countries. Since 1994 the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) was formed in England with the other home nations forming similar unions in their own countries.