Famous Rugby Players-p.2

The Women’s game has progressed and developed at an accelerated pace in recent times. On an amateur level rugby attracts more women than men statistics have shown. We have many top flight professional teams with their female counterparts supported by the club and indeed at national level where we have seen the introduction of the women’s 6 Nations Tournament in 1995 running simultaneously with the men’s competition and U.20s men. However, women have been playing rugby as early as 1887, Emily Valentine was the first recorded female player who took part in a her brothers school team in N. Ireland and the records show she scored a try too. Since then women’s rugby has continued to grow and most recently obtaining professional recognition with player contract, the Netherlands Rugby Union were the first to offer pro-contracts to the women’s 7s team in 2011 with many top international rugby bodies following suit as a consequence although limited pro-contracts have been associated with female players and teams since 1989. So, it is fitting to turn the spotlight on the world’s most famous women rugby players.

Emily Valentine, the world’s first female player of the noble sport rugby. She was allowed to join her two brothers in the Portora Royal School team in Enniskillen, N. Ireland in 1887. The school’s headmaster was her father and the team mainly male players of differing ages. One source says the team was a player short, so she removed her hat and coat and got stuck in and scored a try in the game. May be the Women’s 6 Nations Cup should be called the Emily Valentine Cup in her honour as the men’s 6 Nations Cup bears the name of William Webb Ellis.

The rising popularity of women’s rugby has provoked a more in depth search to discover the history of women’s rugby and some surprising facts came to light when the University of De Monfort teamed up with World Rugby Museum in Twickenham the home of English rugby. Cigarette cards a popular sales incentive back in the day issued a series of cards depicting female rugby players in 1895 and in 1891 the cancellation of a women’s rugby tour to New Zealand due to public pressure.

Staying with the name of Emily, we have the 2019 World Rugby Union Player of the Year, Emily Scarratt a renowned high try scoring centre or fullback. She was drafted into the England side in 2008 and has earned 74 caps. A prolific try scorer which enabled her to score the winning try in the WRWC against Canada in 2014. Emily who is a qualified P.E. teacher has represented her country in 7s too, played in the Olympic 7s team and continues to play for Loughborough Lightning WRFC, the now 30 year old exploded on to the rugby scene at the age of 16 and still hold many points scoring records from major competitions.

A Welsh player nicknamed Bird whose career spanned over 30 years and captained Wales in their first ever international match against England in 1987. Liza Burgess was a formidable N.8 and led Wales 63 times as captain. She retired at the finish of the 2007 6 Nations Tournament having played in 4 WRWC and as a coach in two of them. Liza winning 93 Welsh caps was inducted in to the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2018, Bird continues to assist Hartpury WRFC and head coach of Wales U.20.

The youngest women to have represented her country is Nathalie Amiel, at the tender age of 15 Nathalie stepped onto the field for France versus Great Britain in 1986. Since then she has played in three WRWCs in 1991, 94 and 2002 and was honoured in the Hall of Fame in 2014. She also coached the French team on retirement is one of the first women to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Carol Isherwood who played against Nathalie Amiel in the 1986 match went on to organise the Women’s Rugby Union body and also captained England against Wales with Bird as captain in their first ever international meeting. Among her honours before being forced to stop playing with a knee injury are an OBE in 2003 and rugby’s Women’s Sport Personality of the Year in 2008, an inductee to the Hall of Fame in 2014 and the first woman appointed to the now World Rugby committee.

This Black Fern player from New Zealand had a career of twenty years in which she won four WRWC finals in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. Anna Richards played at fly-half and is the most capped Fern player. Awarded the N. Zealand Order of Merit in 2005 for services to women’s rugby. Anna has coaching experience with the Hong Kong Women’s 7s team taking on the role in 2014. She is also one of the six women inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. Anna has only been on the Fern’s losing side twice in her 49 appearances.

The first Eagles player to be inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame is American Patty Jervey who also holds the record as the first player to compete in 5 Rugby World Cup competitions, the inaugural tournament of 1991 then ’94, ’98. ’02 and 2006. Patty went on to represent USA forty times, putting her in 2nd place as longest serving player. Her speed, pace and stepping on the wing for USA became a trademark and in 2008 Patty received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Sports & Arts Museum while later joining the ranks of the Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.

The World Rugby Museum is still avidly searching for more historical facts on women in rugby, so, you can expect more stories and anecdotes surfacing in the future.

Stay tuned and see you soon on https://polandrugbyfestival.com/https://polandrugbyfestival.com/ edition.

P.s- picture credits thank to Pierre-Yves Beaudouin (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014_Women%27s_Rugby_World_Cup_-_England_18.jpg)