From The Vaults

08 November 2021
RFU at 150: The Red Roses

More than 100 years after the foundation of the Rugby Football Union, another pioneering group of individuals sparked a revolution that would permanently change the face of rugby union in Britain…

On 4th February 1984, a group of women met at University College London to discuss the formation of a 'Women's Rugby Union Association'. They represented 12 clubs and universities who had been actively developing women's rugby in England since the late 1970s. At the conclusion of their meeting, the Women's Rugby Football Union (WRFU) was born.

A second meeting was held on 4th May before which Acting Secretary, Sheila Welsh, had visited the RFU Secretary, Bob Weighill, to discuss their proposal. Weighill informed Welsh that the RFU had no objections and a respectful, mutually supportive relationship was initiated.

The WRFU didn't just represent English rugby but also Welsh and Irish. So it was that in 1986, international rugby took root for the first time on British soil with a match at Richmond between Great Britain and France. The following year the Red Roses were ready to bloom, taking on and defeating Wales at Pontypool Park.

With the help of those early administrators, women's rugby quickly became one of the fastest growing sports in England. The National Cup began in 1987 and by 1994, there were 180 active clubs.

At the 1994 WRFU AGM, members decided that England, Ireland and Wales should operate independently and so the WRFU disbanded. In its place came the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) which would administer the game in England. The RFUW was granted associate status by the RFU, who signalled support for the women's game by paying down the financial loss incurred by the inaugural 1991 Rugby World Cup.

'We still have autonomy but we are now joined to the RFU' - Rosie Golby, 1994

In 2010, the RFUW became a fully integrated constituent body within the RFU. The RFU funded professional contracts for the first time in 2014 and by 2020 there were over 500 clubs in England.

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This article is an extract from RFU at 150, a special exhibition produced to celebrate the sesquicentenary of the Rugby Football Union, on display until the end of 2021.