From The Vaults

10 July 2023
Allez Les Bleus: A Brief History of France at the Women’s Rugby World Cups

As one of the driving forces behind the development of the women's game, it is not surprising that France has consistently entered one of the strongest teams in the women's Rugby World Cup. France took part in the very first international women's rugby match against the Netherlands on 13th June 1982, winning 4-0. They had also beaten Great Britain on their first trip across the Channel in 1986, 8-14 for the visiting French.

France maintained an impressive record at the Rugby World Cups, reaching the semi-finals in four out of the first five editions of the tournament.

Les Bleus won third-place play-off matches in 1994, 2002 and 2006. They also won an unofficial match against New Zealand in the inaugural tournament in 1991, after both sides had lost at the semi-final stage.


The Rugby World Cup which took place in England in 2010 proved a difficult campaign for the French side. France's reward for topping Pool C was the unenviable task of taking on New Zealand in the semi-finals. The Black Ferns arrived at Twickenham Stoop on a 17 Rugby World Cup match winning run, their last defeat coming at the hands of the USA in the inaugural tournament in Wales in 1991. Trailing 0-31 at half time, hopes of a French comeback were dashed within four minutes of the restart as New Zealand fly-half Anna Richards - a survivor of the 1991 tournament who was playing in her fifth Rugby World Cup - scored New Zealand's sixth try. A seventh followed, leaving Les Bleus licking their wounds before losing to Canada in the third-fourth play-off. It was a wakeup call for the French side, who wanted to perform better at their home tournament in just four years' time.

With France hosting the women's Rugby World Cup for the first time in 2014, the stage was set for a spectacular tournament. The pool matches were hosted at Marcoussis Rugby Club with the semi-finals and final held at Stade Jean-Bouin. However, France's campaign, once again, ended at the semi-final stage, but this time they did claim third place by beating Ireland in front of a passionate, sold-out home crowd.

The eighth edition of the tournament, in Ireland, conformed to the same pattern for France. Topping their group, France's efforts stalled when they were drawn against defending champions England in the semi-final and had to settle for another appearance in the third-place play-off. Their opponents in the final match were the USA and five tries for Gaelle Mignot's side were enough to secure a 31-23 victory and third place once again - the sixth time in total, but only the fifth time officially (due to the unofficial nature of the 1991 match).


In the most recent edition of the Rugby World Cup, which took place in New Zealand in 2022 after being delayed for 1 year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, France were one of the most exciting teams to watch. With Pauline Bourdon taking on the number 9 shirt as her injured partner Laure Sansus was ruled out of the tournament, France soon found their stride and easily defeated teams like Fiji 44-0. The French flair was in full force, as were their well-drilled forwards. The matches were a visual delight for rugby fans, particularly the France-England match where les anglaises narrowly held onto a 13-7 victory. Having faced the world number ones in the pool stages, France faced the hosts New Zealand in the semi-finals in a match that went right down to the wire. In bitter disappointment for the French, a last-minute penalty kick at goal went wide, leaving them tantalisingly close, with the final score 24-25 to the Black Ferns, who would go on to win the tournament. France however rallied for the play-off game to once again take a well-earned third place.

The consistency of the French team at the women's Rugby World Cup raises questions about what is needed to raise them above that third-place position. Les Bleus will certainly be aiming for a spot in the 2025 final, which will take place at Twickenham Stadium. Will having former captain Gaelle Mignot as joint head coach prove enough to give them the edge next time? Could the new World XV tournament provide additional international experience, outside of the 6 nations championship, and will that be enough to see them through the semi-finals? Only time will tell. All we can say here at the World Rugby Museum is Allez Les Bleus!

Visit the Allez les Bleus exhibition

Allez Les Bleus: The History of Rugby in France will be on display at the World Rugby Museum until 31 August 2023.