A proud moment as female players dominate new Rugby World cover

At Rugby World we often find ourselves reporting on historic moments and memorable breakthroughs in the oval-ball game. This month, though, we’re the ones making history! For the first time since Rugby World was launched in 1960, the magazine’s cover is dominated by women’s rugby.

Back in 2002, then England Women’s captain Paula George shared the cover with Lawrence Dallaglio ahead of the 2002 Women’s World Cup. Fifteen years on, however, we’ve picked four stars of the women’s game to sit front and centre on the cover of our new issue as we preview the Women’s World Cup in Ireland.

The quartet who adorn this landmark front page for the September issue, which goes on sale on Tuesday 1 August, are England’s Emily Scarratt, Ireland’s Niamh Briggs, New Zealand’s Portia Woodman and Canada’s Magali Harvey.

Personally, I’m hugely proud to have been involved in putting this magazine together and especially to see the women’s game take its rightful place on the cover. Some may argue that this cover is long overdue but it’s still a significant milestone that should be celebrated.

I’ve worked at Rugby World for more than a dozen years and it’s always enjoyable and rewarding putting together an issue of the magazine. This one, though, feels that little bit more special, symbolic even.

One of my first commissions in journalism was to do the match reports for Saracens Women in the late Nineties. I remember going to watch their games with, say, 50 people on the sidelines (a young Maggie Alphonsi often one of them!). The growth of the game has been incredible to see and while there is still a long way to go – there’s a lot of work to do at grass-roots and club level while the focus many countries are putting on sevens can be detrimental to the XVs game – the sport is certainly moving in the right direction.

The decision to make the Women’s World Cup the main sell on our September issue was made before the recent success of cricket’s equivalent but the sellout crowd for the England v India final at Lord’s proves that there is a huge appetite for women’s sport. As players have said to me, it’s no longer just their friends and family turning up to watch big games, it’s general rugby fans.

England cricket

Champions: England celebrate winning the Women’s Cricket World Cup. Photo: Getty Images

The August tournament being held in Dublin and Belfast already looks on course to have record attendances and the standards should be higher than ever. Yes, there will be a few one-sided matches but the recent International Women’s Series in New Zealand demonstrated how competitive the top nations are and while England go in as favourites they are by no means guaranteed to retain the trophy they lifted in 2014.

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Another boon for the sport is that the Women’s World Cup is being broadcast on terrestrial television, ITV showing games in the UK and RTE airing them in Ireland. This is a chance to introduce women’s rugby to a new audience, to widen its appeal and show the quality of athlete now performing at the elite level. Again, it would be great to see more than just England v Italy (Sunday 13 August) being aired on the main ITV channel rather than ITV4, but games will still be shown on free-to-air channels so the armchair sports fan can access them easily – that’s the main thing.

Hopefully our decision to put female players on the cover for the first time will also attract a larger following to women’s rugby and highlight a few of the interesting characters in the game.

Niamh Briggs

Lead role: Niamh Briggs will captain Ireland into the Women’s World Cup. Photo: Inpho

That’s the thing about women’s sport – the stories are often far more unusual and compelling than the men’s genre because their journeys to the top are so different. The professionalism in many men’s sports, team sports particularly, means that talented players can be signed up to academies at a young age. Women’s rugby is nowhere near that level yet, but that is what produces such engaging characters.

Here are a couple of examples. Carolyn McEwen was a figure skater before switching to rugby in her early twenties and now she’s packing down at prop for Canada. Becky Wood, a firefighter, only started playing XVs three years ago but is now in the Black Ferns squad for the global showpiece.

Both these stories – and more – feature in the new issue of Rugby World as we celebrate the best of women’s rugby and put the sport centre stage.

I hope you enjoy this magazine as much as we did putting it together.