Rivalries forged by women in rugby

World Rugby takes a look at some of the biggest rivalries featuring women’s teams across both sevens and 15s.

El Salvador faced Guatemala on International Women’s Day, 8 March, this year in the first women’s international to be played in Central America. 

Keren Alvarado scored the first try in rugby’s newest rivalry, and the match proved to be a high-scoring affair as Dafne Garcia’s hat-trick helped Guatemala secure a 50-5 victory over their neighbours.

Theirs might be the freshest match-up but El Salvador and Guatemala have some way to go to match the longevity of the biggest rivalries featuring women in rugby.

Australia v New Zealand

One of the most fiercely contested rivalries in rugby for men or women, the trans-Tasman antagonists first met in 15s back in September 1994.

New Zealand won that test, as they did each of the subsequent 18 O’Reilly Cup contests, but Australia have had much greater success in the shorter form of the game.

A contest that has come to define women’s tournaments on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series was first staged in the final of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai.

Australia sealed a 15-10 victory at 7he Sevens Stadium to claim the inaugural women’s title and then won three of the teams’ first four meetings on the World Series.

Since its inception ahead of the 2012-13 season, there have been 42 events on the women’s World Series. The finals of 16 of those have been contested by Australia and New Zealand, while only three have not featured at least one of the southern hemisphere nations.

On 15 April, 2018 the Black Ferns Sevens beat Australia to seal Commonwealth Games gold. That result kick-started a run of eight successive wins for New Zealand, culminating in their most recent victory — a 17-7 success in the final of the HSBC Cape Town Sevens in December.

New Zealand’s winning run has given them an 18-10 lead in the head-to-head between the two sides, Sarah Hirini having played in 25 of those 28 matches.

Portia Woodman is the match-up’s highest points and try-scorer having crossed the whitewash 21 times. Woodman’s team-mate Tyla Nathan-Wong is second on the list with 87 points, while Australia star Ellia Green has scored 12 tries and amassed 62 points.

England v Canada

Like the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, competition between Canada and England was born in the 15s game but has flourished in sevens.

The pair’s first test match was played in Ontario on 10 June, 1993, as England ran out 12-8 winners, a feat they repeated in the Rugby World Cup 1994 quarter-finals and twice at RWC 1998. 

Canada did not record a 15s victory against England until July, 2013 when they edged home 29-25. To date the North Americans have won three tests against England, to their opponents’ 27 victories, while there was a pool-stage draw at RWC 2014.

That 13-13 stalemate in Paris helped to eliminate the Black Ferns and set the stage for England to win a second women’s RWC title with victory over Canada in the final at Stade Jean Bouin.

It was England who won the teams’ first official meeting in sevens, 12-0 in the RWC Sevens 2009 plate final, but Canada currently lead the head-to-head 16 victories to 11.

Canada have won the three most recent encounters, including a 7-5 victory in the final of the 2019 HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens. Twelve months previously, however, it was England who claimed bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with a 24-19 defeat of their rivals.

Kenya v Uganda

Last year was a bumper one for the female players of Kenya and Uganda as the Elgon Cup returned following a four-year hiatus.

The home and away tests, played in Kimusu and Kampala, were both won by Kenya’s Lionesses and served as vital preparation for the 2019 Rugby Africa Women’s Cup.

At the continental competition in Brakpan, South Africa, which doubled as a qualifying tournament for RWC 2021, the two teams met for a third time in two months and it was Kenya who again took the spoils.

Despite the Lionesses’ recent success, it was the Lady Cranes of Uganda who won the neighbours’ first three meetings, ensuring they won the inaugural Elgon Cup in 2006 and retained it two years later.

Since 2009, however, when a 38-5 victory helped Kenya secure a 43-17 aggregate victory, the trophy has left the Lionesses’ possession only once, in 2013, when Uganda won 30-26 over the two matches. In total, Kenya have won 13 tests to Uganda’s eight, with two draws.

Although the countries share a land border they have only faced each other in a World Rugby sevens event once, with that match being played on a different continent.

In April 2019, Kenya beat their neighbours 24-0 in Pool B of the women's World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier before being beaten by Brazil in the semi-finals.

France v New Zealand

France’s rivalry with the Black Ferns has burst into life in both sevens and 15s in recent years.

The countries first met in a test match on 14 September, 1996 with New Zealand securing a comfortable 109-0 win. 

It was a pattern that would continue in subsequent years as the Black Ferns won five successive matches against Les Bleues between 1996-2018. Those triumphs included consecutive RWC semi-final victories for New Zealand in 2006 and 2010.

However, the French turned the tables on 17 November, 2018 as tries from Julie Duval, ‘Try And Stop Us’ ambassador Maëlle Filopon, Romane Ménager and Caroline Drouin, who finished the match with 15 points, secured a 30-27 win.

And just eight months after that maiden victory in Grenoble, France won their second match against the Black Ferns as Caroline Boujard, Filopon and Jessy Trémoulière scored tries in a 25-16 victory in San Diego.

France’s change in fortunes has not been limited to the 15-player game either. Having lost 25 World Series matches against New Zealand between 2014-19, the French pulled off a 29-7 pool-stage triumph at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens.

That victory ended the Black Ferns Sevens’ 38-match unbeaten run on the World Series and put a seal on France's march into the Cup quarter-finals. 

Their run in Kitakyushu would end against England in the last four, but France would soon taste victory over New Zealand again — winning 19-14 during the pool stage of the 2019 Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Fiji v Ireland

A rivalry created by the World Series fixture list, Fiji and Ireland have met 17 times since being drawn in Pool A at the 2013 Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Fiji won that first encounter 38-5, a result which proved to be the start of a five-match winning run in the fixture that lasted until a 17-17 draw in Dubai in 2016.

Ireland secured their first World Series victory against Fijiana at the next event, the 2017 HSBC Sydney Sevens, with a 19-12 pool-stage win.

Fiji responded with successive wins in Las Vegas and Kitakyushu, but since a 19-14 victory at the HSBC Canada Women's Sevens it is the Irish who have assumed control of the rivalry.

Following that win in Canada, Ireland won seven matches in a row against the Fijiana, including the pair’s only non-pool stage meeting — a 19-7 fifth-place semi-final triumph in Langford in 2018.

Fiji brought an end to that run in the teams’ most recent match, in Dubai at the end of 2019, as a 28-12 Pool B win helped the Pacific Island nation qualify for the Cup quarter-finals.

That result drew Fiji level in their World Series head-to-head against their European rivals with eight wins apiece and one draw. It’s a rivalry that is delicately poised.

Last updated: Jun 15, 2020, 11:47:58 AM
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