A wonderful moment came my way yesterday when watching the Women’s Rugby World Cup final in a local pub. Mid-way through the first half a man sitting at the table in front, turned to his mates and said forcefully, “Tell me this isn’t great?” It was a challenge of sorts but not only to his friend. It was a challenge to everyone, daring them not to recognise that the rugby on show was as entertaining and as passionate as anything that the men’s game could produce. Who, he was asking, would give in to the petty-minded view that says that women should not be playing a sport that is still perceived to be the preserve of men? What he got by way of a reply was a loud cheer that briefly drowned out the commentary and rang in my ears long after the game had ended.
I suspect that most people in the pub yesterday had been watching women’s rugby for the first time and it was heartening to look around and see them all slacked-jawed and spellbound by two teams who not only deserved to be in the final but who played an extraordinary game which many are now calling the best 80 minutes of women’s rugby ever.
I had spent the previous evening in the company of England women rugby players, past and present. Someone had decided that the 2010 World Cup was a fitting occasion for a reunion so in a pub in Kew, a few knocks down the road from Twickenham, we met, we laughed, we sang our favourite rugby songs and we shared our memories and our hopes for England glory.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Despite their fantastic efforts, England’s rugby women succumbed to New Zealand’s awesome power. Final score England 10 – 13 New Zealand.
The players are devastated but they have so much to be proud of, not least the fact that people who had never heard of women’s rugby much less seen a game, are now talking about them with pride.