Why Rio could be huge for Women’s Rugby

14-rio-2016
Rio 2016 Logo

So as some of you will be aware, I worked over the weekend as the Team Liaison Officer for the Lithuanian National 7s side at the European 7s event in Exeter . One of the many famous faces celebrated there over the weekend was the RFU’s first full time women’s referee, Sara Cox.

Alongside the Team GB men’s and women’s sides, Sara is off to Rio to be a match official when Rugby finally returns to the Olympic games after a 92 year absence. I was thinking about the relevance of this, when I saw that Canada women’s had beaten England and shot up to second in the world rankings. This made me think, could women’s rugby one day take the centre stage for Rugby 7s and indeed Union?

It seems an odd concept to some. Rugby has long been considered a man’s sport, largely down to it’s physical aspects. But more women than ever are playing the game, watching the game and getting involved. Indeed, as physicality is more prevalent than in other sports, the results can often come down to who is that bit fitter, or wins the collisions.

This means that in men’s rugby, traditional rugby playing nations often seem to have the advantage. Look for example at Scotland’s last three games against Japan; they’ve been tight old affairs, but Scotland have won each three of those games in the second half. They wore down the Japanese. As much as it’s scary to say, I actually think the Japanese were the better team on Scotland’s two test tour over the summer, but they just couldn’t close out the game. Put simply, Scotland have been investing in Rugby for so long, their coaches and players are in perfect shape and have the experience to close out those tight games.

This is of course only one area of a game, and it certainly isn’t enough to be strong and fit to win a game, but it can often be the thing that makes up the fine margins.

If we look at the World Rankings top 10 between men’s and women’s, there are some big differences. Many of the teams that top the men’s also appear in the women’s top 10 too.

(Click on the Photos to enlarge)

However, teams such as Spain, Canada and USA make the cut, whilst Scotland don’t even make an appearance and Italy are ranked higher than Wales. One of the big affects the physicality has is that it’s is far more difficult to do a Wales in the Euros or a Leicester City in the Premiership- success takes a lot of time and investment and it takes time to capture the imagination of the public. I’m not suggesting football is an easier sport, but shock results are far more common.

Women’s Rugby on the big stage is still in it’s infancy and Rio really has the opportunity to throw it into the limelight. With the women’s game at such an early stage, could it steal the show at Rio? The Olympics will no doubt increase interest and investment in 7s and that may also transfer across to the full 15s game . So with that in mind, Women’s rugby is arguably more open to the moment and could become the focus for nations pushing for Olympic Gold, where they might feel that they cannot easily achieve one in the men’s.

Now I will admit, this is all very speculative. We’ve only just started to see professional female referees, whilst professional players such as Scotland’s Jade Konkel are still a rarity. However, I do believe the Rio Olympics will be a huge boost to both the men’s and women’s game. Do I think women’s will overtake men’s as the most popular form? Sadly not, but I do think that it will be a huge boost for Women’s Rugby worldwide and who knows, maybe one day we will be sitting down to watch a women’s world cup final in Twickers?

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter and don’t forget to sign up to my new mailing list, here!

The Scribbler, July 13th, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

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