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Sharyn Williams: An unexpected debut for Australia and a 30-year record

Sharyn Williams in 1994

For 30 years, Sharyn Williams held the record as Australia’s youngest female international rugby player—without even knowing it.

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Her name may mean nothing to the general public. But Sharyn Williams has lived an incredible story that deserves to be told.

For almost thirty years, she held the record of being Australia’s youngest international rugby player. Her record was broken on 17 May this year by Waratahs full-back Caitlyn Halse, who earned her first cap against the USA in Melbourne.

Williams was 18 years, 1 month and 13 days old when she was first selected for the Wallaroos. It was against New Zealand in Sydney on 2 September 1994.

Halse, on the other hand, was 17 years, 7 months, and 28 days old when the new Wallaroos coach, Jo Yapp, decided to call her up for the Pacific Four Series match. 

Fixture
Pacific Four Series
Australia Women's
25 - 32
Full-time
USA Women's
All Stats and Data

While Halse had patiently climbed the ranks over many years, it was a stroke of luck that made Williams part of history.

Touch football champion

Originally from the Brisbane area, Williams lived on Queen Street in Cleveland, Moreton Bay. It was her touch football coach, Charly Beitzel, who was 15 years her senior, who introduced her to rugby by taking her and other players to a tournament.

“I think it was a 10-a-side tournament,” she tells RugbyPass. “At the time, I was playing a lot of touch football, and that’s how I got into rugby union. So, that year was such wonderful fun.

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“It was just a really great time because women’s sport back then, particularly touch football, wasn’t well supported. But rugby union was, so it was very exciting. They gave us two pairs of boots and we had all these uniforms. It was really wonderful, really great times.

“So, the tackling was quite different from what we were used to because we had only played touch football before. So, I must admit I was definitely not the best tackler, and my nickname was ‘shoulders’ because I had none and I wasn’t very good at tackling.

“It was full-contact sport, and we were not used to that. So, whenever I would play, my heart would race. As soon as I got the ball, I’d be so scared of being tackled. I’d just, yeah, run as fast as I could.”

A year of rugby before being selected

Despite her fears and unfamiliarity with the code, Sharyn Williams was selected for Australia’s first-ever women’s international rugby union team, then known as the Wallaroos.

“At the time, I was playing touch football for Australia, and that was my passion. We had our World Cup for touch football the following year. So, really, my main sport was touch football, and I played over 50 test matches.

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“I played for one year in 1994 for Souths Rugby (in Brisbane). We were the first-ever women’s team to play at Ballymore, which was exciting, and I got involved in the Wallaroos game.” 

Just one year before, the Australian Women’s Rugby Union (AWRU) had been formed.

“One of my best memories was that game we played at Ballymore. That was probably the first time we played in front of such a big crowd. And I was able to score the first try under the posts. It’s just a really nice memory, and my mum tells her friends, ‘Sharyn was the first woman to score at Ballymore!’.

“That’s a nice family memory that comes up every now and then. And yeah, my parents were very proud. So that’s something that was really nice.”

Later on, in the first Wallaroos team, Williams was placed on the wing, alongside Beitzel (also a winger) and her friend Selena Worsley (born 1975), who won 24 caps as back-row and played in three Rugby World Cups in 1998, 2002 and 2006. Williams didn’t make it that far.

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Her longest 10 minutes against the Black Ferns

So here we are on Friday, the 2nd of September 1994, at the North Sydney Oval. “I remember it very well, I was terrified! I was on the bench for most of the game, and the New Zealand women were just so skilled.

“We had some amazing players. We had Helen Taylor (fly half), we had Selena, and Deena Louise Aiken (back row). We just had some wonderful players, but New Zealand was just so far ahead of us, just to see them and how they played. They were just amazing.

“So, I was on the bench thinking, ‘oh my goodness… What’s gonna happen when I go out? If I go out there!’ And the coach – I think there was only four minutes to go – and he said, ‘right, you’re going on’. And I was like, ‘no, I’m OK…’

“Anyway, he put us all on the field, so we all did play on the field, but they were probably 10 minutes. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life because we were defending the whole time.

“They were just so skilled while we were just in defence. It was, yeah, pretty interesting. So, I must admit the attack side of the game I loved, but the defensive side, my technique was not very good. So, I would attempt to tackle and then my wonderful teammates!

“In rugby union, I would say I was not one of them, but I was very proud to play that first.”

A spectacular evolution in 30 years

After that match, Williams retired from international rugby. Having experienced it first-hand, she realized it was not the sport for her. However, her name remains linked to that initial encounter, and her record has remained intact for 30 years.

“I didn’t even know about it,” she laughs. “No, I didn’t realise that until a friend of mine read it somewhere and sent it to me.”

Today, Williams is Chief Financial Officer of a company called G8 Education, a leading provider of quality early learning education and care. She lives on the Gold Coast.

She confirms that she still follows women’s rugby, although, like the vast majority of Australians, she prefers rugby league.

 “I just love to see young women representing their country, and I’m absolutely certain the skills and techniques that women have developed over those 30 years, they’re just going from strength to strength.

“I think the thing that’s so impressive is how physically they’ve evolved, so that not only are they really strong, they’re fast and the skills are just amazing. So, I just love seeing that evolution.

“That they’re just so mobile, especially in the sevens game. They’re just so wonderful to watch.

“I think it’s a lot more popular now, which is great. A lot more people are watching and supportive of women’s sport across the whole board, but it certainly helps when you’re having a lot more success.”

Four years after that very first match, the Wallaroos took part in their first Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1998 in the Netherlands, where they finished fifth. Since then, they have played in every Women’s Rugby World Cup, with their best result coming in 2010 when they finished third.

Australia will host the 11th edition of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2029.

The Women's Rugby World Cup 2025 is coming to England. Register now here to be the first to hear about tickets.

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