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'We just got on with it': How Scotland rescued Women's Rugby World Cup 1994

By Martyn Thomas
Action from the Women's Rugby World Cup final between England and USA at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh.

Sue Brodie experienced a range of emotions as her office fax machine spluttered out its fateful message at the beginning of January 1994.

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Etched onto the pages Brodie eagerly read was news that the Netherlands were pulling out of hosting that year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup. It came as a complete shock, especially as the tournament was due to kick off in only three months’ time.

“There was no inkling that there was a problem. All the information was coming through as you would expect,” Brodie recalls more than 30 years later.

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“That was the first indication that there had ever been a problem and we didn’t know why. Absolutely, there was no explanation given as to why it was being cancelled.”

What Brodie didn’t know at the time – and wouldn’t learn until Dr Lydia Furse researched the matter almost three decades later – was the Dutch organising committee had buckled under what it described as “enormous negative and unsympathetic international pressure”.

In October 1993, the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) had deferred its decision on whether to sanction member unions who wished to take part in the tournament until the following March.

This move was only communicated to the Dutch at a separate FIRA meeting in December and put them in an almost impossible position.

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Given the union was an IRFB member and oversaw both the men’s and women’s games in the Netherlands, it would not have known whether it could compete in its own tournament until a matter of weeks before it was due to start.

In effect, the delay was an attempt to ban the tournament by stealth and it is no surprise that countries where the women’s game had closer ties to the men’s union – New Zealand, Italy and Spain as well as the Netherlands – were not represented at the 1994 tournament.

However, this was not an issue for Brodie, and it did not take her long to find the resolve to identify a potential solution.

Driven by the desire to play at a World Cup, Brodie was also in a position to do something about it as the chair of the Scottish Women’s Rugby Union (SWRU), a body affiliated to but not governed by its male counterparts.

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“I had a little think about it, and I was quite naive, you know, because I thought, ‘well, it’s only a tournament. We’ll just have it here’,” she admits.

After Edinburgh Academicals training the following evening, and armed with the fax, Brodie invited a group of team-mates to Todd’s Tap, a pub in Leith, where she outlined her plans to save the World Cup.

“I knew it had a backroom that would be quiet mid-week,” Brodie continues. “So, we went in the backroom, and I suggested that we held it in Scotland instead.

“There was a bit of a stunned silence but when we thought about it, it was like, ‘well, so-and-so can do this, so-and-so can do that’.

“We all looked at the skills that we had in the room and decided, well, let’s see if anybody wants to come.

“[We decided to] keep it the same dates. I knew there was an issue about it being called Rugby World Cup, so there was the option of changing it to ‘World Championship’. So, that wasn’t gonna upset any trademarks or anything.

“Then to see if people would come, [we agreed to] send out the invite and just see what happened. And straight away, you know, there was actually a lot of interest, and it was like, ‘oh god, this could work’. So, we just got on with it.”

Fortunately for Brodie, there were a lot of “key people” in the Scottish game present in the backroom of Todd’s Tap that Wednesday night.

Edinburgh Accies were home to the country’s first women’s club side, who played at Raeburn Place following earlier stints at Liberton and Boroughmuir.

As such many of the club’s players – including Scotland’s first women’s captain Sandra Colamartino –  were also active in the SWRU and had helped their country take its first steps on the international stage only 11 months previously.

Another of those was Accies centre and SWRU marketing, media and PR officer Sarah Floate. She wasn’t at the meeting in Leith but remembers the reaction to Brodie’s idea as being extremely positive.

“We were just all on board,” she says. “We did think it was a massive deal, but we just got on with it. We just thought, ‘we can do this’.”

As well as changing the name of the competition from ‘World Cup’ to ‘World Championship’ in an attempt to appease the IRFB, Brodie and her organising committee also made it clear to participating teams that they would have to pay for their own travel and accommodation.

Leaning on contacts within the game, pitches were secured – “clubs were quite happy to make facilities available… it was sevens season,” Brodie says – while the media were intrigued by the 90-day timeframe to get the tournament on.

With the Scottish Rugby Union also supportive, lending both meeting rooms and advice, things looked to be going to plan for Brodie and Co.

That was until Brodie received a phone call less than two weeks before the tournament was due to start and, in an echo of the problems faced by the organisers of the 1991 tournament, was told that the Russian squad had no money.

Having already drafted in a Scottish Students side to replace Spain and with the draw made and brochures printed, Brodie could not afford to let them drop out.

“That was the biggest headache of the whole thing,” she says. “I went on the local radio and I did an appeal.

“We got free accommodation from the nursing home in Livingston, because it happened to be their Easter holidays and Livingston Rugby Club right next door, they took them under their wing and gave them facilities and food.

“There was a coach going down to Manchester Airport, taking people to the airport that was going to be empty on the way back, so the Russian team got picked up in Manchester and brought back to Edinburgh in an empty bus.

“There was a minibus company that donated a minibus for a fortnight as a way of sponsorship. They got free tickets to the Castle and the Commonwealth pool and Pizza Hut and all sorts.

“It was amazing and that was the mood, you know, people wanted to help.”

Crises averted, and following a civic reception in Edinburgh, the tournament got underway on 11 April 1994 with victories for England, France, Wales and USA. Scotland entered the competition two days later, Brodie scoring two tries as Russia were beaten 51-0.

But it was during her side’s second match, against England at Meggetland Stadium in front of 5,000 people, that Brodie came face to face with the enormity of the organising committee’s achievement.

“I was on the bench for that game and I remember, as we were warming up I couldn’t help but be distracted by seeing the crowds of people coming walking down the roads towards the ground,” Brodie recalls.

“It was like, oh my goodness, because it was a beautiful sunny Friday night in April and just a fantastic occasion.”

Scotland lost that match to the eventual winners 26-0 before a quarter-final defeat to Wales but would finish the tournament on a high with an 11-5 victory against Canada in the shield final on 23 April.

The following day, Brodie remembers feeling “exhausted, absolutely finished” yet happy as she sat in the Raeburn Place stands with friends and a beer as England beat USA 38-23 to claim the crown.

“I was in the stand watching, but I don’t actually remember much about the game because I was really more conscious of ‘I can’t believe this is actually happening’,” she adds. “I was watching the event rather than the actual game.”

Kirsty Crawford, who worked on the organising committee, adds: “I get emotional thinking about it because we did what we were doing because we enjoyed what we were doing.

“It not happening would have been unfair. Everybody was just so committed to sharing what they loved… you didn’t really think about the enormity of it.”

Brodie, Crawford and Floate will have a chance to do exactly that this weekend when the play 90 Days is performed to sold-out crowds at Traverse Theatre on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The brainchild of fellow organising committee member Colamartino, the trio have each helped to bring the story to the Edinburgh boards and Brodie will be there for every night of the run.

She will be joined by a number of past and present Scotland and England players to toast one of the game’s greatest rescue acts. “It’s like a massive reunion,” Brodie says. “It’s just brilliant.”

You can watch 90 Days online for seven days from 13 April by donating here

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Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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