World Rugby Museum illustrates evolution of game ahead of Women's Rugby World Cup

By Ben Miller | 28 July 2010
A photo of a man and woman holding framed England rugby shirts

(Above left) Rugby Football Union for Women President and former England Captain Gill Burns

Exhibition: The Rugby World Cup, World Rugby Museum, Twickenham, August 12 2010 – Spring 2011

When the sixth Women's Rugby World Cup gets underway in Surrey next month, it will be the centrepiece for a game which has evolved significantly since the first competition was held in 1991.

It took seven years for the International Rugby Board to officially recognise the tournament, and players would have to travel the world at their own expense, staying in budget accommodation and travelling in parks.

"The Russian team used to arrive with caviar and vodka to fund their trip," says Rugby Football Union for Women President and former England captain Gill Burns.

"They were probably selling it illegally, but they needed to find money from somewhere to pay for their part in the World Cup. It's developed massively since then – it's done so much more professionally now."

To mark the occasion, the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium is hosting a variety of posters, objects and images from the earliest days of the game, including previous World Cup trophies.

"You can see kit from the early days and the way it's changed through the years," says Burns.

"In the early days it was a novelty – women's rugby was such a minority sport that it wasn’t the game people were interested in. Since then it's been taken very seriously. It’s right up there in the sports pages now, looked up to by people who are interested in rugby all over the world."

One constant remains the relentless success of New Zealand, who have won the past three World Cups, including victories over England in the 2002 and 2006 finals.

"Everybody talks about the England-New Zealand rivalry, but Australia and France could win it this time," speculates Burns.

"It's not all done and dusted. In the early years you had your first 15 and a couple of also-rans in each squad. Now if a key player gets injured, someone who's only fractionally weaker than them takes their place.

"It's brilliant that everybody's pushing each other as part of one very successful squad, and that's due to the strength of the RFU for Women."

Admission £6/£4. Call 020 8892 8877 to book a stadium tour in advance or for up-to-date opening hours.

The Women's Rugby World Cup starts on August 20 2010 at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, continuing until September 5. Visit the Rugby Football Union’s World Cup site for more details.

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