The delayed 2021 Rugby World Cup came to an end on Saturday morning (UK time) with an enthralling Final between hosts New Zealand and England at a sold-out Eden Park.
It was the Black Ferns who managed to earn a somewhat shock victory over the Red Roses that came after two red cards, a yellow card, 11 tries and a last second lineout steal, catapulting those women into New Zealand folklore as the likes of Stacey Fluhler, Ruahei Demant and Ruby Tui became household names around Aotearoa.
Unfortunately Wales were knocked out by the eventual winners in the quarter-final, having snuck a superb win against Scotland in the first round of pool games and come close against Australia in the final round before facing the unenviable task of facing down the Black Ferns.
However, it represented a big step forward for the women in red who had gone from losing all three games and scoring just 20 points in the 2021 Six Nations, to finally putting in place a professionally contracted framework at the start of this calendar year and showing huge signs of improvement through the 2022 Six Nations and into the Rugby World Cup.
Looking forward and I can’t help but feel that, having seen the growth of women’s football in the United Kingdom over the last 12 months, the build up and playing of the 2025 Rugby World Cup in England will be a watershed moment for women’s rugby on these isles.
I’ve sort of fallen into seeing the growth of women’s sport accidentally, with my other half a keen women’s football fan and me just generally intrigued by different sporting events, but due to that we’ve gone from watching Wales in a crowd of 1,500 to being part of a 15,000-strong Red Wall, as well as watching two games at Wembley as part of a sold-out 90,000 attendance, thanks in no small part to the successful hosting of the football European Championship in England.
Going back to earlier in the year I happened to be at the Arms Park on the same day Wales played Scotland and, while there were “only” 4,000-ish people there, it felt like it could be the start of a promising journey for women’s rugby in Wales as the team battled to an excellent win and then spent hours taking photos and signing autographs for the hundreds of young girls in the stands.
Now it’s time for the Welsh Rugby Union to get it’s arse properly into gear and ensure that the women’s game has the structure and investment it requires to be competitive and inspire a generation when the Rugby World Cup turns up next door.
Contracting the senior international squad can only be the start of the work that is needed to make the programme a success. Regional pathways, a senior regional competition and national team age grade sides should all be high on the menu, alongside partnership work with University rugby and the Premier 15s competition across the border.
Those will not only give the national team the best chance of being competitive in 2025, but also to capitalise on any success beyond that. The train is at the station, and while it may not be the gravy express that the blazers at the WRU prefer, this is one that they should not be missing.
There’s a legacy to be made…