The momentous victory of the England team at the 2022 Women’s Euros in the football was one of the sporting highlights of the year.
It was always going to be an uphill task for their rugby counterparts to come close to matching that at the Women’s Rugby World Cup, especially given the lesser worldwide presence rugby enjoys.
Even so, read on to find out how they came close to emulating the football team, and how the tournament itself was a massive success in terms of growing the game.
1. Despite a hiccup, it was well-organised by the hosts
The tournament was originally supposed to have been played last year and was a high-profile victim of the pandemic and the strict lockdown laws of the hosts, New Zealand.
Despite their domination of the event since it was started, winning six out of the seven finals played to date, there has always been the sense that the Kiwis were not taking the contest as seriously as perhaps they should have been.
That belief was given some credence by the unfortunate events around the scheduling of an All Black test in Japan at the same time as the New Zealand women were due to play their World Cup quarter-final against Wales.
New Zealand Rugby were forced into having to make an embarrassed apology, especially after political leaders from across the spectrum criticised them for the oversight.
But by the end of the tournament, the issue had been largely forgotten as the organisers were congratulated for a highly successful event.
They were helped by the home team reaching the final, which meant it became a raucous sell-out.
2. The final was one of the best games ever played
The final was, arguably, the biggest boost women’s rugby has ever had.
It was an extraordinary game that had absolutely everything: 11 tries, a red card, massive physicality, entertaining running rugby, and a tense finish with the result in doubt right to the end.
There was so much drama packed into 80 minutes that you felt drained just watching it.
Ultimately, the home team prevailed and were crowned world champions after a dramatic 34-31 victory, and a thrilling final that neither side really deserved to lose.
It was the perfect advert to help grow the game, and put the cherry on the icing of a fantastic tournament.
3. There was a big commitment to growing the game
One of the most noteworthy events, came before a pass was even thrown.
By announcing that the tournament would be marketed under the same branding as the male contest, World Rugby gave a clear and unconditional commitment to the game. This made them the first major sports federation to rebrand their events in such a way.
As chair, Bill Beaumont made clear: “[this] demonstrates our ongoing and unwavering commitment to advancing women in rugby, both on and off the field, in line with our ambitious strategic plan.”
Players from all teams recognised the tournament as a great opportunity to promote the game to a receptive international audience. They were open and welcoming to the media, and got their individual stories across effectively.
4. Canada proved they can compete at the highest level
For the game to grow, it helps if there are several strong sides to ensure that there are as many competitive matches as possible.
Nearly half the World Cup games were decided by two scores or less, and both semi-finals were won by seven or less points.
One of the biggest stories was the progression of outsiders, Canada, to the semi-finals, and their great performance in running England so close that the Red Roses were clinging on desperately at the final whistle.
The gap between fully professional teams and others was not as stark as it has been previously, and some targeted financial help from World Rugby will hopefully close it even more going forward.
5. The New Zealand vs France semi-final was worthy of being the final
The other semi-final between the hosts and France was a classic match that could easily have graced the final itself.
The French fly-half, Caroline Drouin, missed an eminently kickable last-gasp penalty as New Zealand claimed a 25-24 win in front of their home fans.
The French got some consolation by easily winning the third-place playoff and securing their position as one of the top sides in the world.
6. There is genuine anticipation for the next World Cup in 2025
The next tournament is scheduled to be held in England in 2025.
The growing interest in the sport in the UK at club and international level will have been given a further boost by the performance of the England team in New Zealand.
As beaten England head coach Simon Middleton said: “If that does not take the game forward, there is something wrong. I am pretty sure it will.”
This is also likely to be reflected in ticket sales for the Six Nations internationals in the new year.
At this stage, it is hard to see the next World Cup not being a big success, especially given the big attendances at nearly every international sporting event held here. A sell-out at headquarters for the final is almost a certainty.
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