Exhibition: England Women's Rugby – A Continuing Success, World Rugby Museum, Twickenham, until July 2012
© World Rugby Museum
Twenty-five years ago this month, England Women completed their first international rugby match. Only a handful of fans watched their 22-4 win over a Welsh side also playing their first official game.
“We stayed in a youth hostel, and our match preparation included taking our ‘walk and stretch’ on the swings in the park,” recalls Nicola Ponsford, a player in that side who now combines roles as the Managing Director and Head of Performance at the Rugby Football Union for Women.
“The game itself was all a bit of a blur. It was much faster than we had played before. There were a few people watching – mainly family and friends and a few interested spectators who seemed baffled that women were actually playing rugby. We played in big, baggy white cotton shirts that we had to pay for.”
Since that day – when, according to Ponsford, she was repeatedly stuck in “a lot of mauling” – England’s female finest have played 186 international tests, notching 165 wins, eight victories in the Six Nations tournament and only one defeat in 29 against Wales.
Despite only winning one World Cup (Ponsford was part of the triumphant 1994 side), England have made the final four times and, in the aftermath of London hosting the flagship tournament two years ago, when more than 13,000 people watched the final, participant numbers have exploded. More than 200,000 women now take part in competitive rugby across the world.
“The game has developed so much since I first became involved,” says Ponsford. “It has developed only for the better.
“I was the first ever paid employee but now we have a wonderful, extremely talented team at Twickenham with massive support.”
- Open 10am-5pm (11am-5pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission £7/£5 (free for under-5s).