The online home of Women's Rugby

Remembering WRWC'91: The Press

Day one of the World Cup received slight, but overall very positive, press coverage. We look at one of the best articles to appear the day after the opening round of games.

Press coverage of the first women’s rugby world cup was, at best intermittent. The occasional article appeared in the lead-up to the tournament, especially concerning the USSR team whose simple attendance was seen as extraordinary, the USA because of the size of their second row, and the Japanese because of their stature (or lack of) and fashion in headgear.

Once the tournament began the first day achieved some good coverage, as did the final, but in-between the best that could be found tended to be the appearance of scores in the classified section. However what did appear, once the trivialities were out of the way, was very positive, especially towards the organisers. One telling comment from the The Times near the end of the tournament praised what they had achieved, while suggesting that this was perhaps because the WRFU (the RFUW would not be born for several years) was not affliliated to the RFU. Rugby writers of the time did not have a high opinion of the main rugby authorites!

The lack of coverage after the opening day was almost cetainly due to timing, and the fact that the tournament was in far away Wales. Day one was on a Saturday afternoon, allowing the press plenty of time to file their stories back in London, especially for the opening game which ended about 3.30. However most subsequent games only kicked off in the early evening, which would not have helped the press deadlines of the 1990s regardless of the sport.

The best coverage tended to be in the broadsheet papers, especally the Times and Sunday Times, and certainly the most detailed report of the opening day appeared in the latter, written by Paul Nelson. Curiously there are several slightly different versions of this in the files, so what appears below is an amalgam of what we have found.

“Different gender, but don’t call these All Blacks tender

THERE was no fanfare, no marching band and no crowd worthy of the name.

But none of the 100 or so spectators, a mixture of the curious, the commissioned, and the committed, who saw the glint in Debbie Chase's eyes as she led her team-mates in the haka at Cardiff will ever forget the moment which marked the start of the first women's World Cup.

The sight of 15 women performing the traditional Maori tribal dance, a ritual challenge which for centuries has remained the preserve of men, will live long in the memory. The performance required permission from Maori elders, which was given on th understanding that the haka would be afforded proper respect. The elders need not have worried. When it came, t was slick, done with conviction and it said in a more eloquent manner than any words could that the women's game has arrived.

Having set the tone for the cup, which takes place over the next week and reaches its conclusion with the final at the Cardiff ground next Saturday, New Zealand continued in perfect vein. They took on and beat a stubborn Canadian side at Glamorgan Wanderers ground despite being outgunned up front, eventually overwhelming their opponents

Even if the opening game, which New Zealand won 24-8, had not surpassed all expectation, the first day of the competition would still have been a triumph simply because it took place at all. With no money and precious little help from their big brother unions, the organisers, all working for nothing, assembled 12 teams from countries around the globe.

For some, the sacrifices were enormous. The Soviet Union team was still arriving in dribs and drabs as the first games were being played. They have no money, little food, and only cherished supplies of local vodka, caviar and champagne which they hope to barter for basic necessities.

The Japanese women, who suffer greatly in their country’s repressive male society, paid their own way through fund-raising. Despite their enthusiasm, the Japanese, who for reasons best known to themselves all play in scrum caps, were swamped a hard-running French side who scored 13 tries in a 62-0 rout. Horikta, their scrum-half and smallest player at well under five feet (not 150 centimetres as the programme notes had it), fared even worse, breaking her collarbone in the first 10 minutes.

The day’s other opening games saw England, one of the favourites, overcome tenacious Spanish defence to win 12-0 at St Helens, Swansea, with tries from Stennett, Willets and Burns, and at Pontypool the United States, with only one of the “locks of hell” – their 6ft and 5ft 11in second-row pair of ex-college basketball players – narrowly beat the Netherlands 7-0

There had been no such problems earlier in the day for New Zealand. Chance, a free spirit who lists her occupation as bass player and has credentials in half a dozen sports, including rugby league, ran with a balance and grace reminiscent of Steve Pokere, another Maori centre, to score good two tries. Outside her, Helen Mahon, the left wing, scored three, ran in a hat-trick of tries, two from the tactical kicking of Jacqui Apiata, the fly-half.

Ross, a chunky fullback with a Campese hitch-kick entered the line with a punch and he impressive back division was beautifully set up by Anna Richards, a scrum-half from Auckland who is a natural all-round athlete with a useful service and a devastating swerve, showed a tactical brain and all-round game that would have graced any match.

The early moments of the game were enough to convince even the most hardened sceptic that this was a legitimate form of rugby in its own right. It was marvellously entertaining stuff, and enough to bury forever the myth that women’s rugby is a poor substitute for the real thing. It is, of course, different from the version played by men. The ball is not kicked as far, so the usual stream of penalty attempts and clearances to touch are cut to a minimum. The ball in therefore in play more, and, glory be, teams actually attempt to gain ground by running and passing. This offers a thrilling reminder of how exciting the game was before coaches got hold of it.

Regrettably, it could also be seen that the other main curse of the men’s game, violence, is creeping in. Several times the New Zealand pack rucked with such charmless abandon that legs, backs and even the odd head became fair game, and a number of times the Canadians were left needing treatment. Although the fierceness of the physical exchanges surprised many unfamiliar with the game at the Glamorgan Wanderers ground, the players made light of it.

But Ruth Hellerud-Brown, the Canadian captain, was quick to play such incident down “I wouldn't say it was a dirty game,'' she said. “I've played in much worse. The most important thing was that there was no hair-pulling and stuff like that going on; we can take the boots.''

Hellerud-Brown's side stuck to their guns throughout, even though it was clear by half-time, when they trailed 16-0, that there was no way back.

Mahon had completed her hat-trick and Chase had scored the first of her tries, and had the New Zealanders had a decent place kicker they would have been even further out of sight. Neither Ross nor Chase had the power to succeed with any one of eight kicks at goal.

The New Zealanders look a good bet to make the final on the Cardiff ground a week today. “

"It was marvellously entertaining stuff, and enough to bury forever the myth that women’s rugby is a poor substitute for the real thing"

Paul Nelson, Sunday Times