Throwback Thursday: Look to the future & New Zealand

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Head Coach Franck Boivert stayed on with the Women’s Eagles following the ’94 World Cup, stabilizing the program through the “off years” and avoiding the turnover between the first two world championships. The U.S. athletes had executed his attacking game-play philosophy brilliantly in Scotland – outscoring opponents by a tournament-best seven-to-one ratio with 387 points scored – but failed to excel at scrum time and in set pieces against England, leading to the runner-up result.

Veteran players like Barb Bond and Candice Orsini were still more than fit and qualified for Eagle duty having already represented their country at two Women’s Rugby World Cups. Boivert was not going to return to the Inter-Territorial Tournaments for exclusive team selections, though, instead traveling around the country to see what the clubs and colleges had to offer.

I didn’t use the ITTs as a selection vehicle because I could see there was a big need to renew and rejuvenate the team. Therefore I went to all of the tournaments, all of the places I could to look for new, young players to keep the same style and same philosophy in the team. Franck Boivert, USA Women’s Eagles Head Coach (1993-98)

As much as he was focused on preparing for the end of the latest quadrennial, however, Boivert was interested in ensuring the up-and-coming female talent in the country had more international opportunities prior to senior selection to better serve future Eagle teams.

In the first two years following the ’94 World Cup, Boivert created the first under-23 women’s national team. He appointed a one Peter Steinberg, the head coach of the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions, to lead the program, with the Frenchman connecting the pathway from age-grade to senior.

Beneficial to the Eagles, too, was Boivert’s reach in the worldwide rugby community. Since the Eagles had not seen New Zealand play since their ’91 World Cup encounter, he thought it best to reach out to friend and recently-hired Black Ferns Head Coach Darryl Suasua for a visit. What Boivert found in the Land of the Long White Cloud was a powerful rugby nation whose women’s program had been quietly hard at work away from the watchful eyes of the Northern Hemisphere.

New Zealand had only played three matches against a newly-formed Australia team between 1991 and 1996, the year the Black Ferns were to travel to Edmonton, Alberta, for the latest rendition of the Canada Cup. The Eagles joined their ’91 Semifinal opponents as well as Canada and France in their first competitive action since the ’94 Final.

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Throwback Thursday: IRFB's green light in the Netherlands

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England had its coveted Women’s Rugby World Cup championship after a smart defeat of the USA Women’s Eagles in Scotland in 1994, and those involved in the advancement of international women’s rugby again showed the world they did not need the sanctioning of the game’s global governing body. That made two self-funded, successful events in three years – and three potential hosts – one tournament fewer than the then-International Rugby Football Union had supported for the men’s game.

Roughly seven matches a year between the inaugural ’91 WRWC and the second three years later were played between women’s national teams compared to the five or so played annually from the first test in 1982 to April 1991. The growth of the game – there were 20 nations competing by 1995 – and willingness of players, administrators, and fans to put careers and savings on the line to showcase it eventually swayed the IRFB to financially and promotionally back an “official” WRWC.

Set for 1998 in the first full, four-year quadrennial, the Netherlands regained its WRWC hosting rights having deferred in 1994 sans IRFB consent. The country’s national team kicked off the international initiative with the first test in ’82 and won two of four matches in Wales in ’91 to finish tied in seventh, but had neglected to send a team to Scotland in ’94. It was not the only one, as the tournament was northern hemisphere-only without New Zealand, a ’91 Semifinalist.

Australia wasted no time in getting its women onto the pitch internationally following the ’94 event, inaugurating the Wallaroos five months later in September. Though they were less than competitive in three matches against the Black Ferns through 1996, they were one of the 16 nations invited by the IRFB to compete at the WRWC. Additional first-timers included Belgium and Germany, with old hands England, France, New Zealand, and the U.S. separated in the tournament’s pools.

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