IRB Women's Development Manager Su Carty looks back on a record-breaking Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 in France.
From 5 September 2010 we celebrated a very successful Women’s Rugby World Cup in London. New benchmarks had been set and the goal for the 2014 edition was simple – match and then better WRWC 2010.
Four years on, we are celebrating a record-breaking WRWC 2014, the most successful edition of the showpiece event in the women’s game. A tournament packed with record crowds and TV audiences in the host nation France, not to mention a few seismic upsets along the way.
Where do I begin to sum up the tournament?
The official launch on 29 July at the Hotel de Ville in Paris and the first meeting with the team managers already feels like it took place months rather than weeks ago.
We were in a special place to mark the start of WRWC 2014 and I wondered could it be a sign that something special was going to happen at the tournament.
There was a real sense of anticipation in Paris in the build up to the first match day. I remember chatting with players and coaches the day before the first whistle was blown and everyone just wanted to get started … prep done, we are ready, let’s go!
And were they ready?
Capturing the imagination
The first match day set a marker of what to expect from this tournament and impressive records were broken. WRWC 2014 became front page news in participating countries. Commentators talked about compelling, intense and captivating rugby.
Tweets called for people to get to a TV if they were not watching with matches described as unbelievable and incredible. Many didn’t refer to women’s rugby, just the great rugby on display in the French capital.
Television audience records set in 2010 were blown away on day one as more than a million viewers tuned in on France TV alone to watch the hosts open their campaign with an impressive bonus point win over a gutsy and hard-working Wales.
So the benchmark of 2010 had been topped and now it was about breaking tournament records.
This tournament captured the imagination of the French public. Not only did they watch in their droves on TV - domestic audience figures peaked at nearly three million during the semi-final with Canada - but people just wanted to be part of it.
The final day at Stade Jean Bouin, the impressive new home of Stade Français in Paris, was a sell-out even before the semis kicked off. Another record smashed as 20,000 people were set to support the leading women’s teams in the world and, as excitement continued to build, the semis would also be played before a sell-out crowd.
A concern for some on semi-finals day was another sign for me that women’s rugby is entering a new era as touts outside the stadium traded tickets.
An incredible atmosphere
Standout players who were most likely only recognised by those who followed the women’s game have now become household names and stars of rugby.
Ireland full back Niamh Briggs was hailed for her performance against four-time world champions New Zealand as the girls in green pulled off the first shock of the tournament. Her Dad proudly told the story of coming through the airport returning to Paris for finals day and when he showed his passport to security, he was asked “Are you the Daddy?”
Magali Harvey, who was deservedly named IRB Women’s Player of the Year after the final, captured a buzz and excitement every time she touched the ball and topped it off with arguably the try of the tournament in the semi-final as Canada reached a first ever title decider after an incredible match against their hosts.
The cauldron of noise, intensity and excitement in the stadium on the last two match days is something I had never experienced in the women’s game before … it was simply incredible.
The atmosphere grew as finals day unfolded and saw New Zealand with something to prove as they swept USA aside to finish fifth, then France and Ireland dusted off their disappointment at missing the final to produce one of the matches of the tournament.
And few left the stadium as the finalists entered the field and what a final it was.
When England looked like they may take control, Canada responded. Stars of the tournament Harvey and Emily Scarratt traded kicks and when England looked for someone to step up, Scarratt was there and crossed the line for the try that brought a 20-year quest for a second title to an end.
Chatting with England’s forwards coach Graham Smith after the tournament about the work-rate and commitment of these players was inspiring. Maggie Alphonsi was at her best in the final, ‘The Machine’ helped ensure England would get their hands on the trophy again by putting an incredible 51 tackles in the two knockout matches against Ireland and Canada.
There were unsung heroes of this tournament too as teams, even when beaten, kept working, never giving up which added to the success of this tournament.
The spectacle that was WRWC 2014 was broadcast in a record-breaking 138 territories, a potential 289 million homes. With more than 1.5 million women and girls playing rugby in over 110 countries globally, WRWC 2014 will no doubt inspire more and more girls around the world to get into rugby and dream of being the stars of the future.