The popularised origin story of women’s rugby is it kicked off in the early 90s. The truth is, women have been trying to play rugby for about as long as men have.
Ahead of the 2021 Rugby World Cup to be played in New Zealand later this year, World Rugby has announced the engraving of the 1991 and 1994 winners onto the trophy – a significant step to recognise their important contribution to the women’s game. National correspondent Dana Johannsen speaks to the first two World Cup winning captains about what the gesture means to them.
For a magic two weeks in 1991, Barbara Bond did not need to explain herself.
Back at home in the United States, the captain of the national women’s rugby team was used to having to constantly have to justify her space in the game, whether that be explaining to well-meaning friends and colleagues that women do play rugby, or, at the other end of the scale, tackling opposition from within the men’s rugby playing establishment.
The inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup in Cardiff – a tournament dreamed up and organised by a group of four pioneering women in the UK – felt like “coming home”.
“The weird thing about playing rugby in the United States – especially back then – is you labour in total obscurity because people didn’t even know what rugby was. If there was an article in the newspaper it was always in the ‘Style’ section like ‘here are these crazy women doing this crazy thing’,” says Bond, who co-captained the US team with Mary Sullivan.
“You always had to almost defend yourself, or justify what you were doing all the time. So going to Cardiff, Wales – a rugby playing nation was huge. Here was a place you never had to explain what rugby is, or what are the rules, so that was just incredible. And we were among a whole bunch of women who all took rugby as seriously as I did.”
“To us, it always felt like a World Cup, regardless of what the IRB said.”
Bond’s team went on to make history as the inaugural winners of the Rugby World Cup, claiming an upset win over New Zealand in the
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