As we break through the 100 days to go until Women's Rugby
World Cup 2010, we kick off a series of features looking back at
previous tournaments by taking a trip down memory lane with Kathy
Flores, a member of the USA side who were crowned champions in
Kathy Flores is busy preparing for her second Women's Rugby World Cup as USA coach, but turn the clock back to 1991 and she was stepping into unchartered territory as part of the Women's Eagles team bound for the first World Cup in Wales.
The memories of that ground-breaking tournament remain vivid to this day for Flores, who was entering the twilight of her career then and relieved to have the chance to experience a World Cup before hanging up her boots.
"I have lots of different memories. It was a different time; the sport was just getting going in the sense of internationally. I know it had been around locally for all the countries but it was the first World Cup, everyone was pretty excited," Flores told Total Rugby Radio.
"We got to have a tour of the stadium in Cardiff, even though we didn't get to play in it. Just being there, it was finally everything all of us had ever wanted. For us in the USA, the Olympics is the top and the tournament was like the Olympics for us. It was exciting.
Living a dream
"It was almost indescribable. It was almost like pinch yourself, I don't think I am really awake, it was like a dream. It was something we had all dreamt about, that there would actually be a Rugby World Cup for women.
"I was at the end of my career really, I was 36-years-old and a lot of us were at that age and it was like now or never."
The USA opened their campaign with a 7-0 defeat of the Netherlands, a match Flores was content to have sat on the bench throughout after "wishing I didn't have to go on because the weather was so bad!"
"The very first game we played was against the Dutch. I
remember the rain was coming so hard it was coming sideways and it
was just a big mudfest. We thought we would do really well, but the
weather can make it quite equal, so we barely won the game."
A 46-0 victory over the USSR followed to earn the USA a semi final against New Zealand, a match they won 7-0 to remain the only side to have beaten the Black Ferns on the Women's Rugby World Cup stage to this day.
All that stood between the Women's Eagles and the title of world champions was England, who had beaten Spain 12-0 and Italy 25-9 to top their pool before ending the challenge of France with a 13-0 victory in the semi finals.
"I remember the final being really physical, and everything had led up to that point of physicality. England were so more well versed in the game than we were. We might have been a little bit fitter, but we were playing on raw athletic talent and things that we had learned.
Athleticism key to success
"I think as a lot of us had been playing for 15 years by that point we knew a little about the game, but nowhere near what England knew and I think that is still true today.
"It's about knowing your sport. Like us in football, we grow up with football, and even though I don't play football I could probably go out and play it and know what to do from having watched it.
"In England, for the young women and men, they grow up seeing it [rugby] and playing and were around it, they had brothers and were always around it.
"Their decision making was a lot quicker than ours which came as a bit of a surprise to our girls. We were the best in our country and then we found ourselves a step behind at times, but our athleticism pulled us through a bit."
The USA triumphed 19-6 in the final to return home as champions and Flores remains convinced to this day that athleticism was the reason for their success against England.
"I do think our athleticism was the key. I think that is the only way we could compete at that point, because the decision making of the England team was a lot better than ours, but we kept pushing it with our athleticism which is what we had."
Stung into action
Three years later Flores returned to British shores to defend their title, although by the time the USA arrived in the Scottish capital Edinburgh she had moved forward in the pack, no longer a flanker but a member of the front row club.
"For me I was older, I was 39-years-old. Now, by rights, I wouldn't be involved but I had still had some of the decision making responsibility to still make the team and still had something to offer as I had moved to hooker.
The USA had scored centuries against both Japan and Sweden in the pool stages before accounting for Ireland 76-0 in the quarter finals and then Wales 56-15 in the semi final to set up a repeat of the 1991 final with England.
"When we got to the final against England, they were stung by '91 and they weren't going to let it happen again," recalled Flores, whose side ultimately fell to a 38-23 defeat to surrender their crown.
"Our athleticism carried us through again, but at that point it couldn't make up for some of the things England knew about scrummaging. They were handling us all over the field in the scrum and they had a good kicker at that time and kept us pushed back and on our back foot."
Twelve years passed before Flores returned to the Women's Rugby World Cup stage as USA coach, and she admits the tournament in Canada was a "pretty eye-opening" experience, but one she was happy to have been a part of.
"You think there won't be any difference but there is. There is a lot of pressure, just as there is as a player, but hoping that you have given your players the skills they need, the decision making they need when they get really pressured.
Experience comes with age
"Our domestic situation is nothing like international rugby where you have less time and you have to be putting the right combinations together and to have players feel confident in those combinations.
"You have to have a goal as a player, my goal was to go the World Cup. After I got done playing my goal was to go to the World Cup as a coach. I have been lucky to realise both goals, but you put yourself where you want to be."
Her experiences both as a player and coach across the history of the Women's Rugby World Cup put Flores in the perfect position to assess the differences from the USA squad in 1991 to the one that she is preparing for this year's tournament in England.
"They are much fitter and stronger than the team in 1991, but I think they lack the decision making the team in 1991 had and that is because a lot of them are young and the team in 1991 came from a lot of players who were self coached, who had to learn the game themselves, and had to make decisions and figure things out for themselves.
"Now we have a lot of coaching which is great, but instead of figuring it out yourself you look to the coach to figure those things out for you. When it comes to clutch times and decision making, you haven't got that time for the coach to give you the answer.
"In general that is difference between an older team in 1991 and 1994 and the team now. The players are younger, we have 23 and 24-year-olds and they have been playing only since college. They don't have years behind them to give them that confidence and their decision making under pressure."