The last 12 months have seen many landmarks in the Women’s Game, not least with the qualifying process getting underway for the first ever Rugby World Cup Sevens to feature a women’s event in Dubai from 5-7 March 2009.
Eighty-three Unions took part in this qualifying process – including some such as Botswana making their first appearance in an international women’s event – to determine the 16 nations who would go down in the history books.
Brazil had the honour of being the first name on this list of Rugby World Cup Sevens qualifiers with the South American qualifier taking place in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in late January.
The region’s leading female team made it four CONSUR Sevens titles in a row by defeating Argentina 45-0 in the final to confirm their tickets to Dubai with Paula Ishibashi certainly one to keep an eye on after her four tries in that victory.
All eyes turned to Europe then for the next qualifier in June, one England – coached by former men’s Sevens captain Simon Amor – won convincingly, the favourites beating Netherlands 50-0 in the final to take the title in Limoges.
England were one of six Europe teams to confirm their passage, the others being the runners up along with Russia, Spain, tournament hosts France and Italy to leave only nine places still to be filled for the 16-team showpiece.
The lure of a first ever Rugby World Cup Sevens competition had resulted in the formation of the first Australian Women’s Sevens team and they enjoyed a dream start, beating New Zealand twice on the way to claiming the Oceania Sevens title in July.
Another team coached by a men’s Sevens captain in Shawn Mackay, Australia did need a try from Nicole Beck on the stroke of full time to beat New Zealand 22-15 in a thrilling final played in the Samoan capital Apia.
The first ever Australian Women's Sevens team won Oceania Sevens in Samoa
South Africa then lived up their billing as favourites in the African qualifying, beating hosts Uganda 24-0 in the final. Uganda had already qualified and tears of joy had been shed after their semi final defeat of Tunisia as it sunk in what they had achieved.
If Brazil, England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa’s passage to Dubai had been predictable, then the Asian qualifier was to provide the first shock of the qualifying campaign as the region’s leading side Kazakhstan failed to secure one of the three spots.
Kazakhstan had been expected to win the qualifier in Hong Kong and to be among the title contenders in Dubai next March, but they lost to eventual champions Japan in the semi finals and then lost 17-5 to China in the third place playoff to miss out.
Japan and China were joined by the surprise finalists Thailand as Asia’s representatives, before champions Canada and runners up USA lived up to expectations by claiming the final two places in Dubai at the NAWIRA Sevens in the Bahamas in late October.
Away from the world of Sevens, the year had kicked off with the Women’s Six Nations in Europe with France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales all hoping to deny England a third successive title and Grand Slam.
The tournament, which runs alongside the men’s and Under 20 versions, kicked off on 1 February with a win for Ireland over Italy in Dublin, but the following day England signalled their intentions with an emphatic 55-0 defeat of Wales.
France showed they couldn’t be ruled out of the title race with a 43-15 defeat of Scotland, but England merely warmed up for their head to head in Bergerac with the French in round three by overwhelming Italy 76-6 in Rome.
On the day there was only one winner as England ran out 31-0 winners over France to move to within just two victories - against Scotland and Ireland – of an historic third Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam in a row.
Catherine Spencer captained England to an historic third successive Grand Slam
They were duly secured with Scotland dispatched 34-5 in Edinburgh and, although Ireland kept England honest, the 17-7 victory ensured the celebrations could begin with Wales claiming second place in the table by edging France 3-0 on the day their veteran wing Louise Rickard become only the second female to reach 100 caps.
English success did not stop there in 2008, though, as they were crowned European champions after beating Sweden 80-3, Ireland 22-1 and then Wales 12-6 in the final in the Dutch capital Amsterdam in May.
England’s next generation then travelled to Ontario in July for the first Women’s Under 20 Nations Cup with Wales, Canada and Canada A. Coach Giselle Mather’s side booking their place in the final after three victories and a rematch with the hosts, one they duly won 30-7 to claim the title.
A month later England hosted the senior version of the tournament with the same outcome, an emphatic 43-9 defeat of Canada and tighter 17-14 win over USA in Esher securing a Nations Cup double. England also beat Canada and USA in friendly matches either side of the tournament.
England have now not experienced a Test defeat since the New Zealand Black Ferns beat them in the Women’s Rugby World Cup final on Canadian soil in September 2006, securing their third title in a row in the process.
A number of those Black Ferns have now retired, but the world champions still emerged victorious from a two-Test series with Australia in Canberra in mid October.
The first was more convincing, a 37-3 victory with World Cup veteran Anna Richards among the try scorers. The rematch was far closer with second half tries from Huriana Manuel and Fiao’o Fa’amausili sealing a 22-16 win to stretch the Black Ferns’ unbeaten run to 10 matches against their Trans-Tasman rivals.
The preparation for the next Women’s Rugby World Cup is already underway with the International Rugby Board having announced in September that England will host the fourth edition in London in 2010.
The Women’s Game continues to go from strength to strength with player numbers increasing and the appointment of the International Rugby Board’s first ever Women’s Development Manager in Susan Carty can only facilitate this around the world.
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- Black Ferns edge past Wallaroos »
- England claim U20 Nations Cup crown »
- Kazakhstan retain Asian title »
- Wallaroo Seven to make history »
- England battle to another Grand Slam »
- Rickard to equal record with 100th cap »
- Irish Rugby Football Union »
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