It's been 41 years since women's rugby took another huge leap forward with the very first international match on 13 June 1982. Holland v France would go down in history as a significant moment in the development of the sport, driven forward by passionate individuals and contested by committed players.
From The Vaults
the first international
Women's rugby got a head start in France compared to other nations. From a handful of games in 1965, women's rugby rapidly expanded across France and in 1969 the Association Française de Rugby Féminin [French Association of Women's Rugby (AFRF)] was formed to govern women's rugby nationally. The first national championship took place in the 1971-72 season, by which time the AFRF represented 330 players and 70 administrators. It is therefore no surprise that France featured in the first women's rugby international match in 1982.
France were however the invitees, hosted by Holland. Dutch women had up to seven years' experience of rugby, but the number of clubs and players throughout Holland was significantly lower than in France. As a result, many of the Dutch players had rarely played fifteen-a-side rugby before their international debut.
According to Scrumqueens, the game came about as the result of a meeting about women's rugby held in France in January 1982 between Henri Flechon and a delegation led by Leo van Herwijnen, from the Dutch rugby union - the NRB.
Despite their relative naivety, the Dutch proved to be fierce opponents on the field, keeping the more experienced French to a 0-0 draw at half time. But a second-half score for France marked the start of France's ascendency on a developing international scene. The full back that day, Viviane Bérodier, was one of seven players from Les Violettes in Bourg-en-Bresse to be selected for the first French women's rugby international team. Les Violettes Bressanes are the only pioneer club still active in 2023.
France proved to be a tough team for new countries to cut their teeth on. They drew against newcomers Italy in 1985 but crossed the channel to victory over Great Britain in 1986, and beat Belgium 66-0 in 1988. That same year, France went on to win the first European Cup competition, hosted at Berodier's club in Bourg-en-Bresse and featuring three of the Violettes.
You can find out more about the history of women's rugby in France in our Special Exhibition Allez Les Bleus: The History of Rugby in France, on display at the World Rugby Museum until 31 July 2023.
10 July 2023
Allez Les Bleus: A Brief History of France at the Women’s Rugby World Cups
29 May 2023