Last night I tuned to Sky Sports television in order to watch the first real heavyweight clash of the Women’s Rugby World Cup now taking place in France – the group stage match between Ireland and four-times World Cup winners New Zealand (aka ‘the Black Ferns’), who had yet to lose a single game in the World Cup since the tournament began in 1991.
I do not intend to describe the match as it progressed. For those who wish to read a report, I can do worse than provide a link here to that of the Press Association, as featured today on the website of THE GUARDIAN
Rather, I have two comments to make:
Firstly, without a shadow of a doubt, women’s rugby has progressed out of all recognition in the last two decades. Where once there was a distinct lack of extreme ‘rugby fitness’, flimsy half-attempted tackling, ‘girly’ running and passing, little attempt to run onto the ball and weak kicking (both from hand and tee), now at elite level the players are glowingly fit, the tackling and ruck-hitting is fearsome, the application of defensive and attacking alignments comparable with that of the men’s game and the overall speed of the female version of the sport has increased by 50%.
It is not men’s rugby, but it is a viable spectacle in its own right, as the size of the crowds testifies.
In many respects, the current Ireland women’s team epitomises both rugby’s core values and just how far the female version of the game has come.
Secondly, despite my efforts not to resort to rose-tinted worship of the Kiwi psyche, once again I have to take my hat off to the New Zealand players and officials. As determined as the Irish girls were to see out their hard-fought victory, the New Zealand girls were similarly reluctant to surrender their twenty-year winning record.
Yet, as disappointed as they must have been when the final whistle went, the New Zealand players were most gracious in their acknowledgements and handshakes towards their conquerors and their coach’s reaction was both humble and magnanimous, straight from the tradition that – when beaten – a New Zealander never strays far from the admission that ‘the better team won on the day’.
It’s an attitude worthy of respect.