The tipping point for women's rugby
August 18, 2014
Hunter and Street delighted with World Cup victory
It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport. Women's rugby only needs that prefix for mere official classification, the distinction is superfluous. Over the past 17 days, the rugby world has been engrossed by the show in Paris. Old-fashioned stereotypes have been disproved. It culminated in Sunday's final where England saw off Canada 21-9, a triumph should catapult the game on to the next level.
In the pool stage, Ireland's win over New Zealand helped raise the public consciousness while Canada's semi-final triumph against France was a game for the ages in front of the most vociferous of crowds. But England's triumph against Canada should be the catalyst for increased awareness of the sport.
"I think this could be the tipping point for women's rugby worldwide," England coach Gary Street said. "This tournament has made everyone realise that women's XVs is one hell of a game and the standard has been incredible."
Sunday's final included one of the great defensive displays from both opensides - Canada's Karen Paquin and the great Maggie Alphonsi for England. For Alphonsi it proved to be a fitting end to a career that took in three World Cup finals with the last finally scratched at the third attempt. England have a ready-made replacement in Marlie Packer but what Alphonsi has done for the game can never be overestimated.
The final also witnessed a near-faultless kicking display from one of the game's brightest hopes, Emily Scarratt. Her skill contrasting markedly against the occasionally shoddy field-handling of her peers - an understandable transgression given the nerves of the occasion - she showed why she is one of the world's top backs with a superbly taken try and her dominant control of the midfield. Blending Ma'a Nonu's bulldozing physicality, Gavin Henson's kicking method and Will Greenwood's incisive running lines, England have in Scarratt the most potent outside centre in the game.
For Canada, Magali Harvey and Kelly Russell were their stars of the tournament. The former was awarded the IRB Women's Player of the Year award in testament to her constant threat from the wing and when she returns to Canadian terra firma she will be mobbed by media requests as the game's new poster girl in that part of the world.
The IRB now has to capitalise on the success of this World Cup. The venue for the next competition, due to be held in 2017, is yet to be announced but a move back to England has not been ruled out with New Zealand also in the running. They have to get that call right as they did with choosing Paris, a city that embraced the competition. Structurally for 2017 the IRB should extend the tournament to 16 teams, bring in a quarter-final stage and also, from an aesthetic point-of-view, unveil a bigger trophy. The diminutive piece of silverware did not do justice to the occasion nor the blood and tears shed by England following their three World Cup final losses on the trot from 2002 through to 2010.
Maggie Alphonsi was colossal at openside © Getty Images
It was fitting there were a great number of England's former internationals in the stands watching the crop of 2014 finally end those 20 years of hurt since they last lifted the trophy in 1994. It was the personification of the credo that ran throughout their campaign.
"So many great legends that have gone before us haven't won [a World Cup] in an England shirt and that was them, and for all of the England Rugby family," Mclean said. Those legends had to cope with the headache of combining their professional life with rugby; it is a juggling act every player at the World Cup had to cope with. But as the tournament proved, the players are amateur in name only.
On September 3 term starts again for Scarratt as she goes back to her day job as PE teaching assistant at King Edward's School, Birmingham. Her pupils will look at Miss Scarratt with a new sense of awe. For Alphonsi, her boots will be permanently hung up in the locker but she will continue playing an integral role in the development of the game as an athlete mentor with the Youth Sports Trust. Two players who are World Cup-winners and played the game for the sheer love it, rather than financial reward.
The road has come to an end for the great Alphonsi. For Scarratt, she has potentially two World Cups left in her. But for the next couple of days, all 26 of those who played a key role in England's will be focusing on their monumental achievement.
The gauntlet has now been laid down to those going for the 2015 World Cup. This summer saw England win the Junior World Championships and the World Cup in France. Over to you, Stuart Lancaster.
Emily Scarratt has the rugby world at her feet © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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