Rugby Nederland to honour trailblazers on 40th anniversary of first women’s test

Utrecht Rugby Club is set to host a day of celebrations, including seminars and an international between the Netherlands and Belgium, in June.

At 14:00 local time on 13 June 1982, referee Roel Wijmans blew his whistle to signal the start of the first women’s international match, between the Netherlands and France.

The visitors arrived at Sportpark Strijland de Meern, then the home of Utrecht Rugby Club, with much more experience behind them but their hosts proved stubborn opponents.

Locked at 0-0 at half-time, the match was settled in the second half when French winger Isabelle Decamp found a way through the Dutch defence to score an unconverted try that secured a 4-0 win.

This month is the 40th anniversary of that inaugural women’s test match, and to mark the occasion, the Rugby Nederland has organised a day of celebratory events.

The event, titled ’40 Jaar Internationaal Dames Rugby’ (40 Years of International Women’s Rugby) will take place at Utrecht Rugby Club on 18 June.

The day will kick-off with a series of seminars, related to the development of the women’s game and diversity in sport, feature an international between the Netherlands and Belgium and conclude with a celebration of the women who played in that first test.

Brigette Johnston, the event’s project manager, has managed to track down 27 of the players who were involved in the match 40 years ago and 18 of the Dutch squad and six members of the French team will be in Utrecht.

“There are lots of routes that I've taken to contact all the trailblazers,” Johnston told World Rugby.

“I've set up a group for the trailblazers on WhatsApp and the stories and the memorabilia [they are sharing] is just amazing, it's incredible. They're all preparing themselves to do some singing on the evening of the party, the songs that they sang 40 years ago.

“Also, not only these trailblazers are coming, but they are also contacting women who played in international games at a later date, who are going to be coming as well.

“So, at that stage, it's going to be a big reunion for a lot of women who played rugby 30 to 40 years ago. It's going to be fantastic.”

Connecting the past and future

Rugby Nederland has been working on the event since last year, after the governing body’s secretary, Annelies Acda was alerted to the milestone by fellow board member Iban Rosier.

Having launched a new strategic plan in 2021, with a focus on developing the women’s game, it was felt the anniversary was an occasion they had to capitalise on.

“We felt that paying attention to this event would also help us in growing more understanding about the women's game, where it came from and where it's going,” Acda said.

“It also fit in with our strategic plan and our plans to actually expand the game, grow the game as ‘growing the game’ is the motto of our strategic plan, and growing the game for women is definitely a huge part of it.

“So, to seize the opportunity when it arose, we thought, okay, we can have a party and have a celebration, which is great, and we definitely want to honour all the trailblazers and it's awesome what Brigette has done.”

Both Acda and Johnston believe it is important to give the current generation of women’s players an understanding of the hard work and sacrifice that went into getting the game to where it is today.

“It feels like we are in a place in rugby history where things are speeding up, with the work that World Rugby is doing,” Acda said.

“Rugby is traditionally a men's sport, and we can show with this event that it's relatively new. Women were blocked from the game... they had to almost fight their way in.

“We hope that it's becoming less of a struggle, that we're more of a partnership, that there's more equality within rugby.

“I can feel it happening, and I feel that whereas maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago, you had to defend yourself playing rugby, now it's more encouraged and we can see what that brings.

“But it's good to sometimes look back to see where you came from and what these women have earned, what they had to do and what they had to fight for. For them it's good to see where we are now and what we're aiming for, so it really is about connecting the past and future.”

Last updated: Jun 4, 2022, 5:33:45 AM
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