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A unique form of pool play at Women’s Rugby World Cup 1998 prioritized winning for knockout seedings, meaning the Women’s Eagles had their most important matchup in just their second game of the tournament. With a loss, they would be kept from a Final for the first time in four world championships.
France’s women’s team had kicked off international play 15 years earlier, and had a standard set before it by a men’s team that had finished in the top three of the Rugby World Cup in three of four quadrennials. The French had finished third in their ’94 WRWC campaign, but had never played the U.S. before the ’02 meeting.
“I know we were the better team, and I know the players know they were the better team,” former Eagle and ’02 assistant coach Tam Breckenridge said. “France knew we were more athletic and that we would want to run on them. They really slowed the game down and did the stuff France does that’s frustrating and takes you out of your own game plan. We weren’t able to adjust to some of that.
“That was a pivotal game we needed to win and should’ve won, but didn’t. That was the one regret we had in the tournament.”
The disappointing, 21-9, result against France did not lower morale in the squad, which understood the loss meant a highest-possible placing at the World Cup would be outside the top four. Australia also kept the U.S. to a lone try in a 17-5 Fifth-Place Semifinal win, however, before Martin Gallagher’s side finished strong against Spain, 23-5, to capture seventh place.
“The team pulled together and played really well overall,” Breckenridge said. “We had good athletes in the forwards and backs. We knew what to expect going into games. You just lose that one game and all of a sudden your back’s against the wall, playing for fifth or seventh. We were a better team that didn’t get a chance to show it.
“That’s the way those tournaments are.”
After capping 23 players and leading the Eagles to a 5-6 record as head coach, Gallagher resigned in the summer of 2002. He cited personal and professional commitments elsewhere as reasons for leaving, but also recognized it was “a good time for USA Rugby and the Women’s National Team to explore new options and look forward to the next World Cup cycle.”
Later that year, the Eagles got a new head coach; one with which they were very familiar.
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USA Women’s Eagles | Women’s Rugby World Cup 2002
Hedwig Aerts – New York Rugby Football Club
Kristin Baja – Washington Furies Rugby Football Club
Libby Caplan – University of Northern Iowa
Jen Crouse – Beantown Women’s Rugby Football Club
Kim Cyganik – Maryland Stingers Women’s Rugby Football Club
Stacey Davis – East Bay Bulldogs Women’s Rugby Club
Shari Dahlberg – Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club
Jill Fenske – University of California, Los Angeles Women’s Rugby
Nancy Fitz (C) – Washington Women’s Rugby Football Club
Stacey Foley – Keystone Rugby Club
Cynthia Gehrke – Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club
Heather Hale (VC) – Washington Women’s Rugby Football Club
Patty Jervey – Atlanta Harlequins Women’s Rugby Club
Ellie Karvoski – New York Rugby Football Club
Liz Kirk – Seattle Rugby Football Club
Phaidra Knight – Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club
Elizabeth Lake – Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club
Kerry McCabe – Beantown Women’s Rugby Football Club
Becky Metzger – Maryland Stingers Women’s Rugby Football Club
Meredith Ottens – Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club
Inés Rodriguez – Keystone Rugby Club
Myra Sandquist-Reuter – Twin Cities Amazons
Jen Sikora – Keystone Rugby Club
Katie Stewart – New York Rugby Football Club
Bex Wallison – New York Rugby Football Club
Alex Williams – Berkeley Women’s All Blues Rugby Club
Martin Gallagher – Head Coach
Tam Breckenridge – Forwards Coach
George Metuarau – Backs Coach
James J. Sullivan, Ph.D – Strenth & Conditioning Coach
Katie Wilson – Team Physiotherapist
Jane Tierney – Team Manager