Throwback Thursday: O, the World Cup goes to Canada

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At three separate Women’s Rugby World Cups, the USA Women’s Eagles contested the trophy in the tournaments’ Finals. The North Americans, like fellow world champion New Zealand and nations from Asia and the Pacific, had to travel many thousands of miles to Europe for said events, and did so again in 2002 to Spain. The ’98 and ’02 events were sanctioned by the global governing body – based in Ireland – with only one European nation, England, involved in any given Final.

Interest and participation grew over the years, and nearly 30 countries fielded international women’s sides by the time the location of the ’06 World Cup was announced.

“The move out of Europe is . . . another example of the growing global popularity of rugby,” Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Syd Millar said in a statement as then-International Rugby Board announced Canada as the host nation in 2004. “The IRB has made every effort to ensure that its tournaments are hosted throughout the rugby world and this announcement means that all of our major regions will have hosted an IRB tournament between 2003 and 2007.”

Despite a drop in form from the Finalist Eagles teams of the early years of the WRWC, the play of the U.S. and Canada on the world stage warranted invigoration at the local level. Instead of American fans traveling across the Atlanta Ocean or searching for what was minimal coverage of the sport, they would now be able to see the best the women’s game had to offer right in their backyard.

Canada’s fourth-place finish in Spain was the culmination of years of toil, with nine of its 16 victories (by the start of 2003) won between the ’98 World Cup and the four-year ’02 quadrennial. The U.S., hoping to get back to winning ways following a seventh-place campaign in 2002, returned to its roots by hiring former Eagle and successful club and regional all-star coach Kathy Flores to lead the national program through the 2010 World Cup.

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