Exciting times for women's rugby in Europe
In her latest column, IRB Women’s Development Manager Su Carty reflects on the growth of the women's game in Europe.
Women's rugby hits another important milestone this weekend with the climax of the second IRB Women’s Sevens World Series taking place in Amsterdam. This tournament forms part of an exciting few months for women’s rugby in Europe with France to host Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in August.
These two occasions gave me cause to ponder the development of the women’s game in the region.
Interestingly, these two host nations played the first women’s international Test match almost 32 years ago, when France were invited to play the Dutch on 13 June 1982 as part of the Union's 50th anniversary celebrations. We have come a long way since that first Test match with top level competition in the Six Nations, European Trophy and Championship, international Test matches and almost 40 teams participating in regional Sevens competitions with a European Series in place for the top 12 nations.
The journey has been a fascinating one and began with a few women who loved the sport, wanted to play and were determined to make it happen. They succeeded in getting the foundations in place that continue to progress into something special that all involved should be very proud of.
The growth of women’s Sevens has without question been boosted by the Olympic decision in 2009 and this year will see 36 countries participating in European Women's Sevens competitions with four further countries with national teams in place, eager to step up. 2014 will also see the inaugural European Under 18 tournament in September as the pathways progress in Unions and future Olympians take to the international stage.
Enthralling climax to the Series
Opportunities for girls to play rugby are increasing throughout the region with more than 30 countries signed up to the IRB's mass participation programme Get Into Rugby, which aims to inspire the next generation of boys and girls to try, play and stay in rugby. We continue to find that once girls are given the opportunity to play rugby, they will play.
Off the field, we have seen the commitment to the women’s game progress through the years. FIRA-AER have a women’s commission in place, responsible for the women’s game across Europe, and with six of the nine commission members being female there are also positive signs of progression to leadership roles in the game.
As we return our attention to the Amsterdam Sevens, the European teams involved will be eager to finish the season on a high and push New Zealand and Australia – winners of the four tournaments this season – to one side. That will certainly not be easy with the two battling for the title with only two points separating the traditional rivals.
The Netherlands and France join the core teams in the Series finale in Amsterdam and their European rivals England, Russia and Spain are battling to secure fourth spot in the standings and are certainly all capable of progressing to the latter stages on their day. As we know with Sevens, anything is possible from there.
It has been an enthralling Series and no doubt we will have plenty more drama before we reach the trophy lifts on Saturday.
The IRB Women’s Sevens World Series finale will be streamed live from Amsterdam on 16-17 May on wsws.irb.com. Follow us on Twitter @irbwomens.