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World Cup memories: 'The night out afterwards was mad, especially when the fire brigade arrived!'

By Lucy Lomax

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With nine months to go to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, in the the first of our World Cup memories series, England centre Giselle Mather tells her story of being part of an iconic group of England players who lifted the World Cup trophy for the very first time.

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We travel back in time as the current Wasps Women Director of Rugby reminisces about the 1994 tournament and how England came through a tough group to beat defending champions and favourites America in the final.

“The memories of that 1994 win are all good, they’re all wonderful. I look back on that time as a really positive, really enjoyable period of time,” said Mather.

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“It wouldn’t happen now but in that tournament we played every three days, we played Canada, and then France and then the final, so it was super packed.

“When we beat France in the semi-final, it wasn’t very pretty but it didn’t matter, we qualified for the final where we faced America who we’d lost to in the 1991 final. Their backs were awesome, and you just knew everyone was talking about them being so good, and we weren’t the favourites by any means.

“I was confident with how we were going to deal with their backs, that belief trigger massively went off in me after a team meeting we had with (England coach) Steve Dowling the day before and the morning of the game we were in the George Hotel in Edinburgh and when I opened the curtains of my room, I could see the top of the posts from there and I can remember now, the nerves and excitement that went off inside me.

“My main memories of the game include an American scrum and it was the first opportunity their backs had to really run with the ball and they ripped us to pieces, but what it meant was that I had a conversion with either side of me and then the communication levels were sorted out. I remember our forwards scrummaged the absolute living daylights out of them. The American forwards were really big and strong but technically weren’t anywhere near as good as ours and that was a major part in our win.

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“I remember about eight minutes from time thinking ‘we’ve won this’ and then hugging Karen Almond our fly-half and Georgie (Paula George). That day we had a 15-minute highlights package on Grandstand (a British television sport programme) and women’s sport on Grandstand in those days was unheard of.

“The night out afterwards was mad. All the countries had to wear cocktail dresses and it must have been about half one in the morning when the fire alarms in the hotel went off. The fire brigade arrived and we were sent out the building and when the fire fighters came back out, all these women in cocktail dresses from all different nationalities were climbing all over these fire engines and these fire men were thinking ‘oh my goodness, what do we do?!’”

“We had to pay our hotel bills ourselves, I remember checking out and getting the train back down to London and my Dad was walking up the station with a St George’s flag waving it around all over the place and I still have that flag to this day.”

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The former Teddington, Richmond and Wasps player who previously worked as a PE teacher for 14 years describes how the players’ training programmes were managed back in the day.

“As players we funded everything. We had training camps all around the country and we had to take annual leave for that. To go to the World Cup, my school helped finance it- we had to sell raffle tickets to go towards the team fund, my school also sponsored me and I remember the school assembly when I came back as a world champion, everyone was hugely supportive.”

As the 2022 tournament in New Zealand creeps ever closer, Mather reveals who she thinks are the teams to watch.

“Obviously, I want England to win and I believe we have a really good shout at doing that and of course New Zealand are right up there, but the French are an interesting one. I have big respect for them, they are a phenomenal team and they just keep missing it. They keep knocking on the door against us (England) and they keep missing but only just…are they going to take their moment?

“I’m also very excited to see what Fiji do, they were very good at Sevens in the Olympics, and I’m intrigued to see the brand that they choose to play as a 15s side. Also, Japan- if they’re anything like their men in the way they play, with the speed in which they move the ball then they’ll also be great to watch.”

The next step in Mather’s career after playing and teaching was coaching, and she currently plies her trade as Wasps Women’s Head Coach and Director of Rugby.

“My role at Wasps is very similar to my male counterparts at the club. I handle recruitment, watch the budget, select the team, make sure the training programme is right, look after the individual players and manage my staff. On top of that I liaise with international coaches and speak to Wasps stakeholders but I’m currently the only full-time member of staff.

“I love what I do. I love sport, all sport, I love people getting better at things and I’m fascinated by team dynamics and human beings. I love elite sport and how you work on the finer details, I’m constantly challenged to be better and there is never a dull or repetitive day. My role is so varied and interesting because it involves human beings and developing them with the vehicle being rugby, and I’m privileged to be able to do what I do.”

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