The 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup: In Danger of Becoming a Masters Tournament

This article is my  final thoughts and some rambling about the 2014 Women’s World Cup and the USA’s 6th place finish .

England won and they seemed to be the team that had wanted to win the Cup the most for the longest time, and for many reasons that is how it should be. In the previous 6 World Cups England had finished second 5 times and third place once. Canada had some dynamic players who made decisions to focus on 7s and stayed home. New Zealand also had some who made similar decisions and would probably have made a difference in the Ireland match which would have led to a different final. The English women united to finally achieve their holy grail.

The reason for the title is a theory I have that the introduction of 7s in the Olympics will drain top 7s players away from this World Cup event and lead to women World Cup players who represent the better older women players from their countries. The USA’s Vanesha McGee, who was impressive on wing during the tournament, was released from her national 7s team contract soon after USA Rugby published a developmental scheme which placed Vanesha’s projected age during the Olympics outside the published optimal range for peak performance. Like Canada and New Zealand, the USA left some top 7s players at home. Will the actual Olympics have an even more powerful impact on the women’s 15s game? The emphasis that is already being put on the Nanjing Youth Olympics makes it hard to imagine the ‘real’ Olympics won’t have a much more profound effect.

When USA’s coach, Peter Steinberg, was asked in the post tournament press conference, after losing 55-5 to New Zealand to finish 6th, about bringing in crossover athletes, he said the future for 15s was in growing the talent through more girls playing rugby in high school and younger. I think that will maintain a club structure of support that will keep the 15s game alive as a minor women’s amateur sport. Over the past 23 years since the USA won the inaugural Women’s World Cup we have witnessed a gradual decline in where we place in the world. As competitive women’s rugby has gained popularity in countries where rugby is a mainstream sport, it has attracted more dedicated serious athletes and coaches with considerable international experience at top levels in both men and women’s rugby. Coach Steinberg lamented that our national side players were not getting enough international experience. He mentioned fly-half Kimber Rozier by name as being limited because of only at most 16 caps. With the financial focus shifting to the Olympics, it will be difficult to squeeze out funds to tour internationally over the next couple of years. Also, the disadvantage of few opportunities for international experience is emerging as an issue for our coaches. Coaching a university team doesn’t compare with coaches who have an annual 6 nations’ experience or southern hemisphere coaches who have experiences with both the men’s and women’s game in these countries. The New Zealand match showed a vast difference in skill levels in many areas: speed in recycling the ball, ability to set-up quickly in offense with strategic and varied backline moves, and possession controlling decision making. These skills crossover from 7s to 15s and without improvement in the coaching and mastery of them, the USA women will continue their slide into the second tier of women’s rugby.

There were many press releases about the packed, sold-out stadium. It was definitely not packed, and if it was sold-out, there were a lot of people who had tickets who didn’t come. I bought a ticket at face value from a French couple who had bought tickets and then received free tickets as an invitation from the mayor. There was no way to buy or pick-up previously purchased tickets at the stadium; although, there was a window passing out the tickets received through invitations from the mayor (and other people like that). There were a couple of ticket touts chatting to people as they came out of the invitation line, but the touts didn’t want to pay the 20 Euro face value as there were not a lot of ticket buyers around. With this ticket (which was on the 22 meter line about 8 rows from the pitch) I was right in the middle of the huge flag waving French crowd with a row of rugby playing, song singing women from Dortmund, Germany, behind me. The cries of Allez les Bleus mingling with the slightly bawdy tunes of the Dortmund Women Rugby Club provided the perfect sound track for France’s 20-9 third place win over Ireland. This Ireland side did claim a couple of places in history before falling to the overwhelming crowd favorite French. They were the  first Irish side to reach a semi-final, and they achieved what had seemed impossible by defeating the 19 consecutive World Cup match winning Black Ferns in pool play. That 17-14 victory  helped deny a New Zealand vs England final. England insured this wouldn’t happen by choosing to tie Canada in pool play.

For the Final match between England and Canada I wandered the stadium. After watching from a few spots, I returned to the Dortmund frauleins for the beginning of the second half. When England began to pull away, I headed back to the press box. There I spotted the nametag of the fellow I was looking for – Chris Hewett, rugby writer for the British paper The Independent. I wanted to get his name because earlier he had disturbed me a little when he didn’t stand up for the national anthems. I’m not sure why that bugs me,  maybe because of all the school children I made stand-up for national anthems back when that was my job. I wrote about an Argentine journalist who didn’t stand-up for the anthems at the Men’s World Cup in 2011. I thought at the time I should have found out the Argentine journalist’s name and make that something I do. Maybe I should try and find some of his primary school teachers and find out if they tried to teach why we stand for national anthems. Anyway, I googled Chris and read his article about England’s victory. The article was fantastic. He wove a fabric of prose and poetry around the people and forces that moved the championship game. (The last sentence was my attempt at a prose & poetry fabric.)

After the match I followed the English crowd to a nearby café for a bottle of divine Bordeaux, repeated ad nauseam singing of “Swing Low”, and exploring the glories that are being in Paris on a lovely summer evening celebrating England’s much deserved 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup victory. As I began a second bottle, the world champion’s bus pulled up. The English team, with gold medals swinging low from their necks, climbed down from their chariot, and the love of their supporters carried them home to celebrate.

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