David Hands Rugby Correspondent
ONE World Cup win and appearances in all four World Cup finals have finally gained England's women rugby players their reward. Erica Roe's streak in 1982 has been the most enduring image of a woman on the Twickenham pitch but that is soon to change as England's women will make their first international appearance at the ground next year, in all probability against France on February 15, the opening weekend of the men's Royal Bank of Scotland Six Nations Championship.
Patience has been a virtue for the women, of whom there are more than 7,000 regularly playing. They began lobbying to play at English headquarters six years ago and resumed two years ago from the inside when the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) took up administrative residence at Twickenham.
"It was fantastic news when the management board decided to offer us a choice of dates," Carol Isherwood, the RFUW performance director, said. "All the players are so excited about it and I'm thrilled for all of those who have worked so hard."
The women, runners-up to New Zealand in the past two World Cups, of 2002 and 1998, but victors over New Zealand on tour last year, were offered the choice of playing a curtain-raiser to either England men's Six Nations match against France on February 15 or Italy on March 9. As France deprived England of the women's Six Nations title last season, Isherwood's inclination is to take the first opportunity.
"We have had an intense rivalry with France since Britain first played them in 1986," she said, "and the profile that would give the women's game would be great."
The first women's match to be played at Twickenham was the national cup final of 1987, when Wasps beat Richmond 19-0 in a curtain-raiser to the men's county championship final between Yorkshire and Middlesex. The Welsh National Stadium hosted Wales against England in 1992 and the BUSA women's knockout final has been at Twickenham since 1995. Last year, the national cup final, between Richmond and Wasps, returned, but a full-scale international has long been deserved. Certainly the men will support it.
Clive Woodward, the England head coach, said he was delighted, adding: "Carol Isherwood and Geoff Richards (the women's coach) have done an excellent job and I would encourage the crowd at Twickenham to give them as much support as possible."
The Times (London, England) (Dec 20, 2002): p41