Wednesday, 20 April 1994

World Cup: semi-final preview

David Hands

Earlier this year, Will Carling, the England captain, mused on the desirability of players having greater input in the administration of rugby union, as they did during the game's infancy. Away from first-class rugby, however, it happens all the time, nowhere more than in the women's game, where a do-it-yourself philosophy has fostered a burgeoning game.

Indeed, women's rugby has grown to such a degree that, in Edinburgh on Friday, delegates from all the countries competing in the women's world championship in Scotland, plus several who are not, will confer over the viability of the next championship and the possible formation of an international body. Among those present will be Keith Rowlands, the secretary of the (men's) International Rugby Football Board (IRFB).

The Women's Rugby Football Union (WRFU), now ten years old, will also decide at its annual meeting next month whether to break into its component national parts. It has been the umbrella organisation for Britain since its inception last year, but the Scots formed a union and affiliated to the Scottish Rugby Union and now England, Wales and Ireland are likely to go the same way.

In a short time, the women have achieved a formidable amount, without much assistance from the men's game or sponsors. Their world championship the semi-finals are in Galashiels today, with the final at Edinburgh Academicals on Sunday is being played on a shoestring.

The Scots have performed wonders in the last three months, since stepping into the breach left by Holland, but the competitors have funded themselves. What the WRFU would love to do, perhaps in the closing stages of their championship, is erase an image problem. Rather than the media rediscovering them at infrequent intervals, the players seek the mainstream acceptance that women in other sports, notably hockey, have won. That alone might overcome the doubts sponsors entertain about women playing rugby and create more opportunities for television.

Maybe it will happen if England win on Sunday. Success against France today will put them in the final, probably against the United States, who beat them 19-6 in the 1991 final in Cardiff. The Americans play Wales today.

Rowlands's attendance on Friday is to discover more about an area of the game some of his member unions report is the fastest growing of any. In Ireland three years ago, there were no recognised clubs and only six in Scotland. The Scots now have 30 and there are 201 in England, Wales and Ireland.

Last week, Rosie Golby, the secretary of the WRFU, and Dudley Wood, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), discussed membership of the RFU. The RFU is supportive, but the women want to maintain their identity, even though they know a formal association with the men's governing body may lead to grants and greater financial recognition from the Sports Council.

``Women's rugby is still very different from the men's game,'' Golby said. ``There are few people on the executive committee who don't play and we know what decisions we are making and what the impact will be.'' Would that the men could say the same.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Women strive for recognition; Women's Rugby." Times [London, England] 20 Apr. 1994

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