Ladies have been doing it on the pitch for almost 200 years and yet everyone that hears the two words “ladies” and “rugby” said together, the general reaction is shock and awe. Of course, they rarely achieve the same levels of publicity and notoriety as men’s rugby but nonetheless they play just as hard as their counterparts and are just as adamant about the sport.
It’s been said that they enjoy hiding somewhat outside of the spotlight and use that to avoid potential backlash to their presence in the game, allowing them to enjoy it to its full extent without having to justify themselves in any way. Public reaction has not generally been in their favour, particularly with the brutal reputation that is inherent to the game. Even through history, there has been some contempt around their presence. A number of teams set up to display the women’s talents in exhibition in the United Kingdom and a riot quickly ensued, forcing them to desert the prospect of publicly demonstrating their talents.
In the early 1900’s, discussions surrounded their introduction to the French union and again the idea popped up in the England about a decade later and on both occasions, when the women played, it was done secretively.
Finally, in the First World War, with all of the men off to do battle, a charity game was set up for the Ladies between Newport and Cardiff, with the latter team winning, shutting out there opponents with six points. Maria Eley was on the pitch that day and she is known as the longest standing women’s player dying only a few years ago at the ripe old age of 106. The entire Cardiff team were all employed by the local brewing company and came out in full protective gear, maybe to ensure that their critics were quelled at least somewhat.
Colonel Phillip Trevor was a champion for the women in the game, as he was a man that was primarily run by the women in his life being the father of five girls. Trevor was a great sports fan and was the author of a number of books on the sport as well as on cricket and he served as the sports reporter for the game with one of London’s big daily papers. He dedicated a full chapter to women’s rugby in one of his books in the early part of the 1900’s. His girls were a rowdy bunch of teenage tomboys and introduced the idea of having a family tournament in the game and recruited a number of their female friends to play. Their father served to officiate the game and found them to be quite talented and resourceful, protecting their heads with their bathing caps.
And thus from this humble start, the women’s game grew, finally garnering some attention in the 70’s, enough so, in fact, that the participants were able to formulate enough players to support an international game in Holland about 10 years later.
Since then, numerous countries have worked to organize women’s unions and maintain through organized standards. In universities, there are a number of teams and they tend to draw decent support from the student crowds. Of course, modern times have changed perceptions and the women have been able to host their own World Cup for the last seven years.