I had the privilege of travelling out to Paris for the last ten days to catch the Women’s rugby world cup and over that time take in 11 games of rugby including 2 semi-finals and a final. It will take some time to get the buzz of the whole event out of my system and I will struggle to express what a great event it was. Now don’t get me wrong it wasn’t all perfect there were some tweaks I would like to see for the tournament such as a bit more push around the actual final to help fill up the stands. That’s said; a record audience watched some rugby that will be remembered for a long time. Ireland’s defeat of the Black Ferns will long be a stand out performance by any team.
I loved the atmosphere the French created; their semi-final against Canada was one of the best atmospheres I have ever witnessed at any rugby match. At the anthems, La Marseillaise was sung with a passion I have rarely seen. It was a tense as well as really tough game which was won by two moments of brilliance by the Canadians. The stage was set for the final. England would face Canada for the biggest prize. Canada’s journey to the final was a great moment for the growth of rugby and they were a team England knew would present a real challenge.
Now it’s hard for me to write about the final without getting emotional. The whole day was tense. I was sick with nerves and sick with fear. I always in my heart believed England could win but in my head I had doubts and they manifested in thoughts of how I would be able to help my friends overcome such a loss. A large group of club mates and friends travelled out to watch and I struggled to sit around with everybody as I was just wanted to be on my own and compose myself. I did move back round to them for the final but stood at the back out of the way. When the anthems were sung I was overcome with emotion at this moment the realisation of how big this was hit me.
I know people find it strange how you can get so involved in something but over the years I have known Rocky and Kat they have had a deeply profound impact on me. I am close to both of them and struggle to imagine a time we will not always be great friends. We have shared our feelings on all things and when it came to the world cup I knew how much it meant to them.
As the World Cup approached over the last few months it was a journey I felt I was being carried along on. I went and watched their warm up games and found each time I was being sucked deeper into the event. I had booked my holiday around it so I could get out and watch as much as possible.
For the Canada pool game all my fears were put to the test, what if they didn’t go any further, what if they played New Zealand in the semi-final, what if they got injured. All these fears were dealt with and following their best performance in years to win their semi-final against Ireland here they were in the final. For a nervous 80 minutes I ran all manner of scenarios through my head. The worst case ones forced my stomach to drop. Like those moments when your worst fears are realised. As Canada battled back into the game, slowly chipping away at the England lead 3 points at a time until they were within 2 points.
It was this third penalty that was a turning point in the game. You witnessed a group of players many of whom had experienced losing this final before reach into the places that only those at the top are capable reaching into. They were under pressure from a Canadian side with a real attacking threat set behind a pack that had too much firepower for all the teams it had faced along the way through the tournament. It was this point in the game when the pressure reaches the point that winners and losers are defined. It would have been easy for England to have collapsed under the weight of expectation at this point and allow the momentum of the Canadians to overcome them. Yet they got a penalty straight away and though it wasn’t the hardest kick Emily Scarratt will ever kick, there was a huge amount of pressure behind it, it was the kick that would make the difference between how the game would unfold.
There were performances in this game that defined players for me. I don’t really want to name names as to be honest winning a world cup in rugby is never about individuals. In fact, it’s never even about the 15 who take to the field or the 23 in the playing squad. It is about all the people who have worn the shirt before, all the players who pushed the squad during training for selection, all the people who got injured along the way, all the people behind the scenes that allow the players to get on and do what they have to do without fuss. All those experiences and all those individuals will share a part of that win.
It is hard to quantify what something means in terms of life experiences. I suppose as someone who doesn’t have kids and hasn’t got married my major life experiences are limited. I would say though, watching my friends and their teammates lift the trophy that represents the highest achievement you can reach as a player in their chosen sport, is probably going to be amongst the best days of my life.
I have never been prouder I have never been more relived. The key thing about sport is you never have a right to a trophy and you never really deserve to win it. You have to step out there and take it, by force of will, determination and years of hard work and pain. That is what England did and now and forever they will always be World Champions.