1991 USA Women’s Team
For the women of the 1991 U.S.A. Women Eagles team, the road to the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup was less than ideal. Nonetheless, their love and passion for the game and national pride led them to become the only U.S.A. Rugby team in history to win a Rugby World Cup.
From the beginning, the team was burdened by a lack of resources and funding in their preparation for the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup. At the time, there was little to no funding for women’s rugby; players paid for their travel costs out of pocket and many were in debt for months and years to come. The team did everything they could to make the journey to Cardiff, Wales possible, from surviving on a small team stipend from the Women’s Sports Foundation, hosting fundraisers, and making and selling t-shirts to cover expenses.
Adding another layer of difficulty, unlike in today’s day and age where team training camps are the norm, the 1991 team members were hardly familiar with one another as anything other than representative and club-side opponents. The Eagles had never practiced together as a national team before arriving in Cardiff, let alone actually played together as a team. All odds were against the 1991 Women Eagles team going into hostile U.K. territory, but with leadership, vision and guidance from Coaches Kevin O’Brien and Chris Leach, the team got to work and began to gel.
The Eagles’ 7-0 win over the Netherlands in the opening pool-play match, played in a torrential downpour that hobbled the Eagles dynamic backline, caused some media and rugby naysayers to scoff and suggest that Americans didn’t know how to play rugby, all but predicting an eventual tournament win for the English. Undeterred, the Eagles kept their heads down, ignored the media, and continued to train hard, gaining momentum and handedly destroying the U.S.S.R., 46-0 in their next pool match. In the semi-final, the Eagles dominated all phases of play, including a walkover try against the heralded Black Ferns (“All Blacks”) scrum, and ‘upset’ powerhouse New Zealand 7-0 in the semi-final match.
On April 14, 1991, the Eagles had overcome all obstacles and faced England in the first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup Final at Cardiff Arms Park. As the Eagles walked to the venerated pitch from their nearby hotel, shouts from the street and nearby businesses rained down upon them; well-wishers lined up at the gates of the sacred Cardiff rugby grounds, cheering “USA! USA!!” and urging the Eagles to “BEAT England!”
A dominant Eagles performance in the World Cup final broke the backs and spirit of England, and etched the 1991 Women Eagles in the record books with a 19-6 win, their name to be engraved on the first-ever Women’s Rugby World Cup and forever in Rugby history.
After the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup victory, more women and girls were playing rugby than ever before. The 1991 U.S.A. Women’s Rugby World Cup team changed the sport of women’s rugby forever, providing an international spotlight for rugby in America and continual inspiration for the growth and development of girl’s and women’s rugby today.