Rugby World Cup trailblazers celebrate 2029 call as a game-changer for women

Mon, 04/04/2022, 3:52 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
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Australia’s trailblazing Wallaroos of 1998 are delighted at the “huge impetus” that women’s rugby will get should hosting of the 2029 Rugby World Cup be confirmed.

Monday’s announcement from World Rugby that Australia is “preferred candidate” to host the biggest event in the women’s game has been greeted with unanimous excitement.

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Some of the broadest smiles were on the faces of Shirley Russell and Bronwyn Laidlaw, two members of Australia’s first World Cup squad in 1998.

“It was only ever a passing thought in my day that the World Cup might come to Australia. Now, here it is,” said Laidlaw, a former fullback who toured when a university student in 1998.

“We have New Zealand hosting on the doorstep this year and Australia in 2029...that’s fantastic and should do wonders for the growth of women’s rugby.”

Laidlaw was one of more than 100 former Queensland women’s players recognised, in person, with honour caps last Saturday at the Reds-Melbourne Rebels Super W game at Suncorp Stadium.

“I said to someone beside me when watching that game, ‘I wouldn’t like to be playing now’, not with how fit, strong and skilful the girls are today,” Laidlaw said.

Russell was a flanker in the 1998 Wallaroos squad which played the World Cup in the rugby outpost of Amsterdam.

A fifth-placed finish with a 25-15 victory over Scotland in the Plate final was a successful finale to a five-game campaign.

Russell is still giving back to rugby with her coaching, under the banner of the Classic Wallabies and Classic Wallaroos, while also being a Vintage Reds board member.

“Awesome,” Russell said of the big bang quality of a home World Cup.

“It will certainly be a huge impetus for increased playing numbers for women in rugby.

“There’s nothing better than hosting a major event on home turf with the best of the best so kids can see them up close.

“We have an ever-changing landscape in Australia with our women’s footy codes and this can encourage players to get involved.

“The Olympic sevens gold medal in 2016 really gave women’s rugby a huge boost and now we are seeing a regrowth of the 15-a-side game because of Super W.

“It’s nice to think we were trailblazers for the women’s game in 1998 and that it’s become a stepping stone to this day.

“Finishing fifth was a pretty credible result and we certainly came together as a team.”

Russell said the non-traditional surrounds of The Netherlands led to some curious sights.

“It was The Netherlands so we all got two-person bikes for a ride one day. That was fine except for Tanya Osborne. She did her best to keep the bike upright but Naomi Roberts couldn’t cycle so they fell into a tulip field,” Russell recalled with a laugh.

Former Wallaroos prop Vanessa Bradley represented Australia at the 2006 World Cup in Canada.

“There is a lot of competition from the other football codes in Australia,” Bradley said.

“Not only is rugby a game for all body shapes, sizes and different athleticism, it’s a global game.

“The chance to bring the best to our country and show that in 2029 will be a game-changer.”

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