The Black Ferns face England in their 100th Test in Exeter on Monday (New Zealand time). But what was women’s football like when they first tested at the Rugby World Cup in Wales in 1991? Joseph Pearson The report.
A newspaper ad brought the New Zealand rugby team’s first test captain to the game.
Helen Littleworth was excluded from the New Zealand hockey team, but would lead her country to its first Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991.
However, the nine-day tournament in Wales was not officially recognized until 2009 by the game’s governing body, World Rugby (then the IRB).
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“It was a difficult time because of the lack of recognition,” says Littleworth. thing.
Thirty years ago there was a lot of negativity: “Women shouldn’t play rugby because they will get hurt and hit their chest.
“this kind of things.”
The 1991 Kiwi pioneer women’s team was not as well-known as the Black Fern, as it is today, and did not receive funding from the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) for its first World Cup. world on the other side of the world.
In fact, players had to pay $ 5,000 (equivalent to approximately $ 8,900 in 2021) out of pocket.
Black Ferns legend Anna Richards, who won four World Cups in her 49-test career, was one of 26 to make the trip with New Zealand rugby team’s first coach, the late Laurie O’Reilly.
They sent all these messages asking people if they could afford to gamble. Richards, who was a lawyer at the time, said they picked a team to go to the World Cup thing.
Littleworth says some players have had to fundraise within their community. Others just can’t take it.
We are used to adversity. “It didn’t bother us,” she says.
“We are used to playing rugby shirts, with our club, it’s played and not washed.”
Despite the lack of support, Littleworth and Richards praised O’Reilly for “moving mountains” by acquiring equipment and jerseys after inviting players to join the team.
“Lori has been a great inspiration and mentor and is very good at getting support from people in the right places,” Littleworth said.
O’Reilly died of cancer in 1998. The O’Reilly Cup is contested by the Black Ferns and Australia is named after him.
Richards says the 1991 route is “fun” as New Zealand played their first recognized test at the 12-team World Cup.
New Zealand came in four groups of three with Canada and Wales. The teams that reached the final had to complete four tests in nine days.
In today’s professional gaming, a similar schedule is unimaginable in an age when the sciences of sports, rest and recovery are so prevalent.
Rugby was an amateur game until 1995 and this brimming list of matches was a huge demand for many players involved in the game a few years earlier.
“We were going to travel and train the next day, then play, and we wouldn’t have a week off to prepare and recover for the next game. The teams now travel in business class, ”explains Richards.
“He was seen on the Bones-of-Ass-your-ass tour.”
The short form means players miss less work, and Littleworth, who studied physiotherapy in Dunedin, says they had to take it.
“The hardest part was playing a lot of games for several days, but we tried to show women’s rugby,” she says.
“If that means we have to play four games in nine days, so be it.”
Most of today’s known rugby countries took part, along with Sweden, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union.
The tournament was run by four women from English rugby club Richmond – Deborah Griffin, Sue Dorington, Alice Cooper and Mary Forsyth – with almost no support from the governing bodies, with teams in dormitories at Cardiff University.
The Soviet team arrived without money because they were not allowed to bring their own currency from the communist country.
The communities of Cardiff supported them with sweaters, cakes and housing, but only after the British tax authorities, HMRC, banned Soviet players from making money selling vodka and Russian dolls in the shops. streets.
New Zealand’s first test was against Canada at Glamorgan on April 6, where they won 24-8, before beating Wales 24-6 at Lanharin on April 10.
The semi-final was against the United States in Cardiff two days later, on April 12, but they lost 7-0 to a stronger and fitter American team, which became the first World Cup winner. after beating England 19-6 in the final. in April. 14.
“Americans have been playing rugby for a while,” says Littleworth.
“I just remember they were so fat. They won with an easy try.
New Zealand will not return to the World Cup until 1998, which was the first of its five world titles, as the 1994 tournament in Scotland was again not approved by the world rugby team. They were now under the financial aegis of the NZRU, which did not send them, and would become known as Black Fern.
“We were devastated because we lost in the semifinals in 1991 and wanted to go back and prove a point,” said Richards.
“A lot of us haven’t played a lot in the first World Cup in years. Because we didn’t go in ’94, I think that’s why I stayed and played for so long. “
Richards, 45, retired after winning the 2010 World Cup in England, 19 years after playing his first of five World Cups. She was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.
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The development of semi-pro or pro contract players led to consistent success for the Black Ferns throughout the 1970s and 15s on the world stage.
“I wish I was 30 years younger. I’m jealous of what the girls have now, “says Littleworth with a laugh. She became a physiotherapist after retiring in 1996 and has served for the Black Ferns, White Ferns (cricket), New Olympic and Paralympic teams. Zealand.
“But it’s great to see women respected for their talent in the game. They are just as passionate as the men.
The first Women’s Rugby World Cup in Wales in 1991
Group 1: New Zealand Canada, Wales
Group 2: France, Sweden, Japan
Group 3: The United States, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union
Group 4: England, Spain and Italy
New Zealand beat Canada 24-8 and Wales 24-6 in Group 1
Semi-final: New Zealand 0-7 USA; England 13-0 France
latest: United States 6-19 England
New Zealand team in 1991: Jacqueline Abiata, Miriyama Baker, Shauna Ballinger, Debbie Chase, Donna Iwi, Mary Fitzgibbon, Amanda Ford, Deborah Ford, Seoga Frost, Susan Garden, Carol Hayes, Helen Littleworth (c), Anna Hopkins, Nicola Inwood, Neroli Knight, Tracy Lemon , Helen Mahon, Elsie Paytay, Geraldine Paul, Erica Riri, Anna Richards, Kristen Rudd, Kristen Ross, Nina Seo, Kim Teriyamay, Natasha Wong. Coach: Laurie O’Reilly.
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