History: Red Roses

The Red Roses will be playing France in their final round match of the TikTok Women's Six Nations, home at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday 29 April. It's their first standalone fixture at the Home of England Rugby and we take a look into the history of the team.

Women’s Rugby Origins in England

Women first played rugby in the United Kingdom in 1887, although the match in Hull cannot be considered particularly successful as the few newspaper reports on the event claim the pitch was invaded and the players carried off before half time! Many may also know the story of Emily Valentine, the young girl who played rugby on her brothers' unofficial school team in Enniskillen, also in 1887. The First World War also offered an opportunity for munition factory workers to form women's rugby teams, playing in front of large crowds and raising significant funds for charitable causes. However, women's rugby did not become an established sport until the late 20th century.

A women's rugby union team took form at Edinburgh University in 1962. In 1963, female students participated in matches against male students in London. The sport became more established at universities during the 1970s, thanks in part to touring teams from the United States.

The Women's Rugby Football Union (WRFU) was formed in 1984. They represented English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish women's rugby.

In 1986, International women's rugby took root for the first time on British soil with a match at Richmond between Great Britain and France. The following year the Red Roses were ready to bloom, taking on and defeating Wales at Pontypool Park. The WRFU established the first UK National League and Cup competitions were established in 1986, one year before the RFU introduced leagues!

England’s first victory

In 1990 a competition in New Zealand known as the Women's World Rugbyfest became a forerunner of the first Women's Rugby World cup, which took place in Wales the following year. However, it didn't get official approval from World Rugby (then known as the International Rugby Football Board), which caused quite a few issues for the organisers. The competition was run on a shoestring, and at one point the four administrators, Deborah Griffin, Sue Dorrington, Alice Cooper and Mary Forsyth, even feared they may have to re-mortgage their houses to cover the expenses involved in hosting the competition. The winners USA beat England in the final, winning 19-6. The tournament successfully continued the growth of women's rugby despite the fact it lacked support from the men's game and received limited media coverage.

The women's five nations debuted in 1999, and women's rugby became more accepted within the rugby community in the 2000s. In 2002, Scotland played their first women's match at Murrayfield, and in 2003 England staged the first women's international at Twickenham.

World Cup and recent history

In 2006, the RFU devoted the rugby museum's main annual exhibition to the history of women's rugby - "Women's Rugby - A Work in Progress" and the same year the Women's Rugby World Cup was broadcast live on the internet.

The Red Roses only started wearing the same rose as the men's team in 2009, where there was a merger between the RFU and RFUW, and the RFUW became fully integrated into the RFU in 2012.

The RFU funded professional contracts for the first time in 2014 and by 2020 there were over 500 clubs with women's rugby teams in England.

The Red Roses went to New Zealand to participate in the 2021 Rugby World Cup and made it to the final where they played New Zealand's Black Ferns, in a game many have described as the best rugby match they've ever seen. Although the Red Roses ran in 5 tries, it wasn't enough to conquer an encouraged Black Ferns side and they narrowly lost 34-31. The Red Roses did come out victorious in inspiring the younger generation and even more women to get involved in rugby. Their commitment to the game both in the tournament and subsequently will continue to further transform women's rugby. The Red Roses will seek redemption and huge home support in 2025 when they host the next World Cup.

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