Sue Martineau, nee Bennett, played back row for Wasps, Loughborough, and England B, with only a broken arm preventing her from playing for the national team. Explore how this influential woman changed the rugby landscape in the 1980s...
From The Vaults
Sue was a real driving force behind the formation of Wasps ladies. She laid the groundwork with Stan Hopkins, who made informal enquiries amongst club members to identify if there would be any resistance to the addition of a women's team.
In a letter dated 20 May 1985, Hopkins stated "So far I have not had any adverse criticism of the idea but I have not met with the real hard core who could resent the revolutionary idea of women playing the game of rugby on their hallowed turf."
Martineau went ahead and requested the opportunity to speak at the 1985 AGM on behalf of the former Loughborough University players who were interested in forming a women's team at the club. Her persuasive arguments were well received, although she had to leave the room for the deliberations and had to wait for a phone call the next day to find out that her application had been successful.
Wasps not only welcomed the women's team to share their facilities, but wanted to fully integrate the women's side into the club, importantly granting the right for the women to wear the famous black and gold. Wasps Ladies established a new model for setting up women's teams within existing rugby clubs - prior to 1985, the majority of women's rugby teams were still clustered around the universities, with the notable exception of Magor Maidens in Wales and Finchley in North London.
Captained by Martineau, Wasps went on to become a formidable force in women's rugby. Wasps won the 1988 Cup Final with a resounding victory over Richmond (34-6), and completed the double by taking the sevens by storm as well.
Martineau spoke passionately in the press about the support Wasps offered to the women's team and the ridiculousness of some of the stigma or ignorance women's rugby players sometimes faced: "In many ways there was more feeling against us at college. I think that as men get older they are less likely to feel that their masculinity is being threatened by women's rugby. Wasps have made us feel at home. […] We are always getting asked about what happens when we get hit in certain places, do we wear special bras and so on. Men have certain sensitive areas too but that doesn't stop them playing."
Martineau was involved in many firsts as a rugby player and administrator. In 1987 she captained Wasps to victory over Richmond at the very first women's rugby game to be played at Twickenham, making history as the first woman to lift a trophy at the home of England Rugby.
A feat doubly impressive when you know that she did so with a broken arm - her coach had cut off the cast after just 1 week to make sure that she could play the historic fixture.
Unfortunately, her injury prevented her eventual selection into the England team to play against Wales that year, although she had represented her country as part of the England B team in 1987.
Wasps remained a force within women's rugby in England for over 30 years, but have struggled significantly with the club going into administration in 2022. The long and proud history of the women's side will no doubt inspire the members to resourcefully respond to the current financial difficulties.
- With thanks to Sue Martineau for recent visit to the World Rugby Museum office and historic content donations.
- 'Wasps Ladies First Annual Dinner', WRM 2023/9.
- Hugh Tompson, 'The Happy Hooker', Midweek, 5 May 1998, 14-15. WRM 18366.
- 'Stung … but in recovery'
- 'Wasps Legends welcome Sue Martineau to Hall of Fame'
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