I’ll never forget it. A year ago today was a Sunday and I had to drive back up to Warwickshire from Devon. The tension was like 2003 all over again and I kept pulling over every time either team opted to kick a penalty, so I could watch on my phone.
I watched the full game again afterwards and the sheer quality of the England performance was outstanding. The discipline and low error count would have made any men’s team envious and both tries were world class. The skillset across all positions that put Nolli in the corner and the individual brilliance of Scarratt to take a flat ball and change plan on the fly. Brilliant.
The captain’s words at the end were poignant and surprisingly eloquent, all things considered.
“… There are so many great legends that have gone before us, that haven’t won it in an England shirt … this is all about the England Rugby family. It started years ago with those that have bought us here and our friends and family …”
This was a very special group of girls who had eyed this prize and gone after it. As individuals they all had phenomenal skills and trained with this day in their minds. They had a fantastic coaching team and dedicated backroom staff that knew it was achievable and as one of their forefathers pointed out so graciously from the commentary box after Canada’s semi-final victory … For England, it was all about the final. And winning the final. Nothing less. When they achieved it, to be frank I thought they deserved the same honours as their male counterparts received in 2003 … and nothing less. Alas, perhaps the Queen’s waiting out to see which girls add an Olympic Gold to their tally first?
But as Katy rightly said, it was about more than those 23 girls on the day, or even the squad across the campaign, it was about England Women’s Rugby playing in and losing 3 Finals before this one and the struggles they have all had to face on the domestic scene.
It was during all of this commotion & excitement that we launched the Women’s Premiership website and I remember watching England’s games and recognising the players’ names from the various clubs I’d been adding to the website. I remember thinking about pre-season training and the season ahead, wondering how it would be in these clubs to be able to train alongside these fabulous women who had just taken the sport to the highest possible level. This could only be a great thing for the sport at the Elite, domestic level … right?
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out as a lot of us had imagined, as Catherine Spencer pointed out in her fabulous article in the Sunday Times at the weekend. First, the RFU decided to adjust their sights and chase Olympic Qualification for Rio … stripping the 15s side of it’s crown jewels and bringing about a string of displays in the 6 Nations that really were not worthy of the World Champions. It was reminiscent of that awful England display against Ireland after the 2003 Victory, but at least the men had retired rather than just being ‘re-assigned’ by the RFU.
As Spence rightly points out, there are a lot of things World Rugby could have done to capitalise on such a fantastic WRWC, most notably extending the format to include 16 Teams in 2017. It’s a shame they haven’t done more.
But my primary concern is more about the elite domestic women’s rugby scene here in the UK. The Women’s Premiership. Where are the next group of England girls coming from and how are they being inspired by the men’s game and the RFU? The competition still doesn’t have a sponsor and it doesn’t even feature at all on the RFU’s website. How can that be?
Although I’m not sure the Men’s Premiership teams should be forced to have a women’s team and development plan, like some are suggesting in the Men’s Football Premiership – but why not have the discussion? Saracens are the only Aviva Premiership team to field a women’s team right now … and they won both competitions last year, oh – and both domestic cups too. So they must be doing something right? Bath & Wasps Amateurs have women’s sections and Bristol have a structure in place. And I can’t not mention Worcester, as their club were by far the most pro-active I met as I built the website.
But if we’re serious about building the next World Champion side then surely the RFU need to be chatting up a sponsor that can put some real money into the competition, for sharing amongst it’s member clubs so they can do some serious work towards building a women’s development structure and premiership side to feed England’s EPS. Does no company want to be a part of that?
RuckinRugby have been a keen and active supporter of Women’s Rugby for many years. In addition to creating the Women’s Premiership website, we also sponsored Saracens and England star Vicky Fleetwood last season, helping as best we could to make sure she knew we supported her quest. We have always been a big fan of Spence and helped to circulate her work and we’re now working with WRWC hero Danielle ‘Nolli’ Waterman to do the same.
The Women’s Premiership Season starts on September 6th and will no doubt be half over before any media swings back from the Mens RWC, understandably. I just really hope that it delivers a new class of Nollis and Scarratts keen to walk in the footsteps of their heroes’ and taste England 15s Glory for themselves in 2017 and I hope the RFU do everything they can to help them.