As Scrumqueens.com celebrates it's 7th birthday, we look at some of the major moments we've covered since 2009.
Seven years ago this month, we pressed “live” and Scrumqueens.com was born.
Months of research and writing was brought alive on our screen as we set about delivering on our dual aim of firstly, providing a home for women’s rugby news from around the world, and secondly encouraging mainstream media to cover it more regularly.
Having left journalism for a career in communications, this project has served me personally well as an outlet for continuing to write about something I am passionate about, while John Birch’s skills in research and data has been well used through his brilliant work in uncovering the hidden history of our sport, more on which below
The two biggest changes in the game since 2009 have unquestionably been the advent of professionalism and the inclusion of the game in the Olympics - the two things of course are intrinsically linked - but the pace of change all over the globe has been phenomenal and much more than we could have guessed all those years ago. It has been privilege to cover it.
Since 2009 we've written thousands of articles about the game, interviewed hundreds of players, and live tweeted too many games to mention over on our Twitter account. We've lobbied the powers that be on issues such as the lack of women in the game's official Hall of Fame and the lack of formal World Rankings (more below) and we've worked hard to shine a light on nations and players who might otherwise never have their stories told.
And what of mainstream media? Interest has improved dramatically and even though there is much further to go, the growing appetite from TV audiences for the game and the rising interest among rugby writers to cover major tournaments and to profile some of the game's stars is encouraging.
To celebrate our birthday - here are the top seven things that we’ve decided are the biggest moments for us at scrumqueens.com since hitting that “live” button all those years ago.
Back in 2011, we reported that the first women’s team ever was preparing to turn professional. When the Dutch rugby union began its professional programme that September, they became the pioneering trailblazers for the sport. Ultimately their project fizzled out when they failed to qualify for the Olympics but professionalism has swept our game and changes it forever. In Rio, 10 of the 2 teams involved included either fully or part time contracted squads, while England made the historic move just a few months ago to hand professional contracts to their 15s players, ahead of next summer’s World Cup. Access to Olympic funded programmes has rapidly changed the face of the game in nations such as Canada and Australia, while nations once considered peripheral to our sport, such as China, are pouring money into sevens. The story of women's rugby's professionalism is only in its first chapter.
2. Emily Valentine & reclaiming our game’s history
Women's rugby has a remarkable history and it has a history almost as long as the game itself - it's just until recently, nobody really knew much about it. The difference is that, for most of the first century, it was a secret, or at best unrecorded, history, which is what made Scrumqueens' discovery of the story of Emily Valentine all the more remarkable. The first recorded female to play rugby, just like Webb Ellis she broke all the conventional rules of her time to pick up the ball and run with it - the only major difference was that her story is certainly true!
This was also one of the first stories on Scrumqueens to be picked up by the world at large. The BBC visited the school where it all took place - even staging a re-enactment, with one of Emily's descendent's reading from Emily's memoires. The story went on to appear in magazines and on websites around the world, from Ireland to Papua New Guinea, including on CNN, and was featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Rugby at Twickenham and even inspired a sports brand. For a website then less than a year old, it was quite a start and it remains quite a story.
3. Sevens & major tournaments
The header here could just have been “sevens” such have been the advances in the short form our sport, but the World Series and the Olympics are the key competitions that have been the drivers of change. In recognition that to improve the standards of the women’s game to a quality befitting of the Olympics, World Rugby has poured money into the World Series, with standards improving to the point where you wince at the thought of any of the top four sides playing any of the sides outside of the series in the coming seasons.
But it is not just about the impact of these two major tournaments, the progress of the sevens game has been telling in particular in the near parity for women’s rugby all over the world at major sevens tournaments. These days, just about every major regional games now has women’s sevens in it. That is some change from where we were seven years ago.
4. The development of World Rankings
After years of campaigning, World Rugby published the first ever official women’s rugby test rankings in February of this year. It is a development that we at Scrumqueens had been calling for for many years, and resulted in our publishing our own rankings. These were quickly and widely adopted, featuring in many articles and TV commentaries, following which World Rugby committed to producing official rankings for the first time, with that commitment made good earlier this year.
The popularity of world rankings stories on this site is worth a mention - in our top 10 most popular stories of all time over the last six years, three of them relate to rankings.
5. Hall of Fame - some work done, a lot more to do.
Two years ago, World Rugby (then IRB) responded to the growing calls - mostly from us - to recognise women as part of its long established Hall of Fame programme. Indeed four of the six women inducted in the initial wave were were mentioned by Scrumqueens.com as possible inductees in a letter to IRB CEO Brett Gosper earlier that year as part of International Women's Day.
Nathalie Amiel (France), Gill Burns (England), Patty Jervey (USA), Carol Isherwood (England), Anna Richards (New Zealand) and Farah Palmer (New Zealand) were all inducted in a long overdue recognition of many of our pioneering players. But there is much further to go to ensure that the hidden pioneers of women's rugby are remembered and recognised.
6. Our Six Nations campaign
In spring 2013 we learned of talks taking place to drastically change the format of the women's 6 Nations. Proposals were at an advanced stage with a vote set to take place in April. We reported that talks were centred around splitting the tournament into a two-tier championship with Ireland, France and England in one tier and Wales, Italy and Scotland in the other.
Opposed to the changes and concerned for the effect it would have on the 15s game, we launched a campaign to generate as much awareness as possible, working with the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women's Sports who sent a letter to the CEOs of the unions involved. Eventually the plans were shelved and Roger Lewis, Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union was then named as the new Chair of the Six Nations Women’s Game Sub-Committee. Our coverage was picked up and then reported on by a number of other media outlets including the Irish Times, BBC and Wales Online.
7. Recognition for scrumqueens.com
The recognition of this site as one of the most credible sources of information about women’s rugby is a real source of pride for us and a reminder that as we are recognised, so too is the game itself.
We've mentioned earlier how media from around the world have picked up our campaigns and coverage, while last year the Rugby Union Writers Club presented us with a special award for our reporting and it was a real honour for me to be named in Rugby World’s Top 50 most influential people in the game (45th before I get too ahead of myself!). We were runners up for a media award in last year’s Women’s Sports Trust award - losing out to brand called BBC (!) -, testament to the growing interest in the women’s game from all corners of sport.