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Only 47 rugby matches between international women’s sides had been played by the time the first World Cup rolled around. It was not unfair for local press to qualify England and New Zealand as favorites prior to that April, as neither had lost a match. Across the pond, those named to the USA Eagles’ travel squad were training as though every opponent was the keeper of the Cup.
“I used to call Tam [Breckenridge] every day that we didn’t work out together or have practice, and I’d say, ‘What did you do today?'” Tara Flanagan, Breckenridge’s “locks from hell” partner, recalled. “She’d tell me whatever her workout was and I’d say, ‘Tam, right now, somewhere around the world, someone in New Zealand is practicing and training to try and beat us. We can’t let that happen.’ I literally called her every day, or she’d call me: ‘Someone over there in England right now – well they think they’re better than us. We’re going to have to beat them.’
“That’s what we talked about for months.”
Upon their arrival in Cardiff just a few days before the tournament was set to begin, the Eagles began two-a-day training sessions in the wet conditions to which the British Isles are accustomed. Flanagan likened the athletes to “battering rams,” throwing their bodies around under the direction of coaches Kevin O’Brien and Chris Leach, who were not only preparing the women for their toughest competition to date, but testing combinations on a match-to-match basis.
The rain shifted into a form akin to sheets when the U.S. ran out onto the pitch against the Netherlands in its first pool match April 6, accumulating enough water on the grounds to reach players’ ankles. Needless to say, it was tough slogging for both teams in the slippery conditions, with the Eagles coming out on top just 7-0 when it could easily have been a margin of more than 50 points based on the teams’ skill levels. Scrum half Barb Fugate was forced out of the tournament with an early injury, however, bringing on Beantown’s Patty Connell in her debut to lead the team through the remaining games.
Flanagan, M.A. Sorensen, and Julie Thompson – following on from seven Eagle debutantes against Holland – played their first international tests four days later against the U.S.S.R. in the final pool game in Wales, a 46-0 thrashing. The U.S. won its three-team pool to advance to one of two Semifinals, where an undefeated New Zealand awaited not eight months from the 9-3 encounter at RugbyFest.
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USA Women’s Eagles | Women’s Rugby World Cup 1991
Kevin O’Brien – Head Coach
Chris Leach – Assistant Coach
Jane Tierney – Manager
Anna Holzhauer – Manager
Sharon Wallace – Trainer