Ahead of Rugby World Cup 2021, to be played in New Zealand later this year, World Rugby has announced the engraving of the 1991 and 1994 winners on the trophy – a significant step in recognizing their important contribution to women’s football. National correspondent Dana Johannsen speaks to the first two world champion captains about what the gesture means to them.
For a magical two weeks in 1991, Barbara Bond didn’t have to explain herself.
Back in the United States, the captain of the women’s national rugby team was used to constantly having to justify her place in the game, whether it was explaining to well-meaning friends and colleagues that women play rugby, or, at the other end The scale is about resistance within the men’s rugby establishment.
The inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup in Cardiff – a tournament dreamed up and organized by a group of four pioneering women in Britain – felt like ‘coming home’.
“The strange thing about playing rugby in the United States – especially back then – is that you work in complete darkness because people didn’t even know what rugby was. If there was an article in the newspaper, it would always be in the “Style” section, like “Here are these crazy women doing this crazy thing,” says Bond, who co-led the US team with Mary Sullivan.
“You almost always had to defend yourself or justify yourself, which is what you were doing all the time. So it was Cardiff, Wales – a rugby-playing nation was huge. Here was a place where you never had to explain what rugby is or what the rules are, it was just amazing. And we were one of a number of women who took rugby as seriously as I did.”
“It always felt like a World Cup for us, no matter what the IRB said.”
Bond’s team made history as the first Rugby World Cup winners, clinching an upset victory over New Zealand in the semi-finals in which Bond scored the only try in a brutal 7-0 fight (“It was a poor try, so it really was a Team Trial”) before beating England in the final at Cardiff Arms Park.
Three years later in Scotland, Karen Almond’s England team took revenge for the defeat and won the tournament in the final, beating the USA 38-23.
However, these events were effectively erased from the record books when the IRB, which did not sanction the first two editions of the tournament, took over stewardship of the Women’s World Cup in 1998, marking the first ‘official’ event.
That changed in 2009 when World Rugby officially recognized their legitimacy and with it the pioneering work of all those who contributed to them.
Now World Rugby has gone a step further and retrospectively engraved the 1991 and 1994 winners on the trophy.
The move was announced on Wednesday to mark the 31st anniversary of the inaugural Women’s World Cup, as organizers of this year’s event kicked off the start of the RWC 2021 (played in 2022) Trophy Tour of New Zealand and the Pacific.
Bond, who now works as an emergency medicine physician in Oakland, California, expected her former teammates to be thrilled with the news.
“I think a lot of people will feel like it’s about time,” says Bond.
“It was a challenge not to be recognized for what we did back then, but people will be very grateful if that achievement is also recognized, not just for our team but for all the people who took part in it. There were so many people involved in making that first tournament a reality.”
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont acknowledged the gesture was an important step in honoring the dedicated women who got the tournament off the ground.
“They have played a significant role in paving the way for today’s players and it is only right that their contribution to women’s football should be recognized in this way,” said Beaumont.
Almond, who captained the Red Roses from 1988 to 1994, says it will mean the world to her and her former teammates to finally have their achievements engraved on the silverware.
Like Bond, Almond is a captain who has won the World Cup and has never held a World Cup. She says a trophy was awarded for the first two editions of the tournament, but when World Rugby took over management of the event a new trophy was procured.
“It’s been a thorn in our side for almost 30 years,” said Almond, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to women’s rugby on Britain’s New Year’s Honors List.
“We were just forgotten and tucked away in the attic and it was really disappointing to know there was a new World Cup and we weren’t there.”
Almond, who now lives in Christchurch with his wife Kelly, is hoping to get an opportunity to get closer to the World Cup later this year when New Zealand hosts the tournament for the first time. She plans to come to Auckland to see England, one of the favorites for the title, and hopes some of her former team-mates can travel to join her.
“For us, the memories of 1991 and 1994 are still so fresh,” she says.
“It was a pure amateur, a pure volunteer, a bunch of very dedicated women who basically pushed women’s rugby forward and tried to gain a foothold in what was then a very male-dominated bastion. The adversity we faced really brought us together.”
About the RWC 2021 Trophy Tour
Wednesday marks the start of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Trophy Tour, which kicks off at Eden Park, Auckland, where the opening matchday will be played on October 8th.
The tour will reach fans in every corner of Aotearoa New Zealand, including Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands off the east coast of the South Island. Detouring across the South Pacific, the trophies will also be taken to Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands as part of the 2021 Rugby World Cup’s ‘Championing Oceania’ program to develop women’s and girls’ rugby in the islands and to support.
The Trophy Tour offers the opportunity to see cutlery up close, take part in fun rugby activities, learn more about women’s football and meet women’s rugby stars.