Between the Lines: Women’s Rugby World Cup 1991 special

Deborah Griffin, Sue Dorrington and Carol Isherwood join Sean Maloney to discuss the stories behind the first ever women’s Rugby World Cup.

On 6 April, 1991 four venues across south Wales played host to the opening matches of the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup amid torrential rain and freezing winds.

The inclement weather was just the latest setback to face the tournament’s four-woman organising committee. Chairwoman Deborah Griffin had worked tirelessly alongside Alice Cooper, Sue Dorrington and Mary Forsyth to put on the event in an uncertain economic climate.

Over the next eight days, 12 teams were whittled down to just two before the USA beat England 19-6 in the final at Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday, 14 April.

World Rugby Council member Griffin, Dorrington and Carol Isherwood, who in her role as the Women’s Rugby Football Union Development Officer organised a coaching conference during the tournament, all joined Sean Maloney on Between the Lines to discuss the stories behind that first RWC.

“It was time, we deserved it and we needed it. We had four kick-arse women delivering it and, you know, just admirably led by Debs,” Dorrington said.

“There was no stopping us. As many pushbacks and as many kickbacks as we had, as many doors that were slammed in our face for all sorts of reasons, whether it be venues or sponsorship or commercial support, nothing deterred us. We kept going.”

Griffin added: “We literally had to do it with no money. I think it was a couple of months out from the tournament, so that was in April so I think it was January, February, we just wrote to all the teams who had said they were coming and said, we can't pay for anything.

“We can't pay for the flights, we can't pay for your accommodation, we can't pay for anything. And they all wrote back and said, ‘oh, no worries, we're still coming’, which was great.

“It was only afterwards that, you know, you realised what it meant to everybody who came and how it helped not just in England and Wales, but around the world.”

Setting a benchmark

Dorrington and Isherwood combined their administrative roles with playing for England, and both appeared in the final defeat to the USA.

The pair were also in Edinburgh — Isherwood as an assistant coach — as England exacted their revenge to beat the Americans to win the world title in 1994.

But few of those involved in the early tournaments would have been able to predict the growth of the women’s game over the next three decades.

“We never would have even dreamt about getting so far and having professional players,” Isherwood said.

“The standard of the game, and the credibility and the visibility of it is fantastic. And the fact that those wonderful players, athletes are recognised as such and that the product now is, this is so great.

“The great work that Debs and Sue and Mary and Alice did in running that first World Cup set a sort of marker in the ground.

“And I've got to say that even then it was fantastically run. We had constraints around times, but the professionalism with a small 'p' still then was pretty good. It was pretty good.

“That's great, and it's great that we continue to develop.”

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Last updated: Jun 15, 2020 11:49:24 AM
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