On Valentine's Day, 1993, Ireland travelled to Raeburn Place in Edinburgh to take on Scotland in what was both side’s first ever women’s rugby international. A crowd of over 1,000 gathered to watch, as the Scots ran out 10-0 winners.
Raeburn Place was a fitting venue as it also happened to be where the first-ever men’s rugby international took place in 1871.
This weekend sees Ireland take on Scotland once again, this time at Ravenhill in Belfast as Ireland look to ensure they finish above both Scotland and Italy by winning their second match of the campaign.
Former internationals Jill Henderson, Therese Kennedy and Tanya Waters paved the way for the current crop of players. They recently came together to discuss the origins of the women’s international team.
“I think we played quite well that day,” recalls Waters. "Everyone paid for themselves to get over and its hard to believe but we played an international match without having a proper training session."
'I would have been disowned if I put on an English shirt!' | 😂
Jill Henderson, Therese Kennedy and Tanya Waters break down the origins of the Irish women's rugby side | 🏉@VodafoneIreland | #TeamOfUs
Catch the full feature across the OTB social channels later today! | 📺 pic.twitter.com/7Lwzq1P5a3
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) April 28, 2022
“I can remember being on the stairs of the bed and breakfast night before, introducing each other." said Kennedy.
Coached by future world cup final referee Alain Rolland, Henderson captained the side. The Newtownards native had been plying her trade in the north-west of England as the Irish league structures were in their infancy.
“I still regret that we didn’t win, because I really believe that we could have won,” said Henderson. “We just didn’t have the experience together as a team, but it was a start.”
It could have been so different as both Henderson and Kennedy were playing in England at the time and were offered the opportunity to to pull on the white shirt.
“I don’t want to play for England,” said Kennedy. “I would’ve been disowned. That's what the driving force was, to find out if there was an Irish team and if not, to set one up. If all the other unions could have one, why couldn’t we?”
They set up their own international team in order to compete with the other rugby unions. The 1994 world cup was on the horizon, and Ireland competed in a group along with France and Scotland. Ireland had qualified for every world cup since, the 2022 version being the first time they missed out on the biggest stage.
In the early nineties, media coverage was sparse. Not only did they have to fight for their right to be recognised as a team but also battled against dissenting voices who argued against women's rugby.
“The Scots actually organised to video the match. They got a television production company to come along,” said Waters.
This weekend the game will be shown on national television, prime time on Saturday night with an 8p.m kick off. The game has come a long way since.
Ireland won their only Grand Slam in 2013, but the gap has widened over the past couple of years as professionalism has brought sides like England and France clear of the rest. It will take some time, and some investment before Ireland can compete with the very top teams again.
Thanks to trailblazers Henderson, Waters and Kennedy, Irish women will compete on the world stage with very best again.
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