- In many ways the early development years of growth in Australia from 1994 to 2003 were probably the most social and the most progressive years,producing great players who benefited from State tours, visiting overseas touring teams from England 2001, Canada provincial team Alberta in 1995, USA 1997 and NZ from 1994 and indeed successful years for a developing country which was producing many wonderful rugby athletes. Many regions boasted of up to 12 rugby teams in Club competitions. These were Sydney,Melbourne and Newcastle/Hunter. Some with two divisions. Unfortunately the introduction of professional Men`s rugby down to Club level together with its more expensive management resulted in the decline of grass roots rugby investment including and significantly Women`s competitions,tours and any hope of schools development for girls during this decade. Rugby then became television and sponsorship dependant for elite male players for traditional rugby rugby.
At the elite Women`s level preparation or lack of it for World cups rugby remained a disapointment for the first three World cups. 2010 was better with three training camps,however with again no prior international matches there was no possibility of high honours. The status quo for Women in sport remains. The 2006 IRB eight point Women`s Strategic Plan when it comes to Australia has only achieved two being governance and performance, leadership, development, competitions, participation and promotion have failed to eventuate. The comparison to be made with England as an example between 6 Nations tournaments from 2011 to 2012 the National teams has played 13 test matches. 3 against New Zealand.
With 7s the only meaningful competitions for many years became Byron and Darwin, occasionally for some players Hong Kong where Bronnie Macintosh`s Aussie Rats participated some years with self funded barbarian teams including a few overseas players which included the legend Black Fern Anna Richards. In most years the Aussie Rats followed their first ARU sanctioned HK tournament as Aussie Gold in 1996. Even this team paid there own way. In most years these Gals played at the Hong Kong 7s against a Privately and Government sponsored and well prepared Aotearoa NZ team who were a little more serious and ultimately always successful. It was not until 2009 and again in 2010 that Australia was successful in Hong Kong but were not allowed by the ARU to attend and defend in 2011, also the HKRU invitation was declined by the ARU in 2008 even with sponsorship confirmed for both years 2008 and 2010.
- In 2008 in many ways was the turning point in Australian Women`s rugby restructuring after hitting the bottom after very hard with sadly five solid years of decline, both in participation and elite competitions. It was also the year that meaningful liaison with the ARU commenced and fortunately coinciding with the IRB`s drive for Olympic 7s inclusion. The brief introduction of elite sponsorship provided this liaison opportunity and continuity between Graeme Holland with the ARU which lasted another three years until a Women`s ARU review committee was appointed by Ian Alker head of community rugby at the ARU in 2011. These six monthly reviews in conjunction with the ASC meant accountability for the ARU for government grants and at last whilst far from ideal, the beginning of the difficult revival process for Women`s rugby in Australia truly began due mainly to the Olympics 7s inclusion for 2016.
Thanks to David Nucifora who as Brumbies coach watched the Wallaroos in the two Canberra tests against NZ in 2008. He must have been impressed as players were later invited to the John Eales medal dinner in 2008. In following years from 2009 a Women`s trophy was included for the best Women`s player with Debbie Hodginson winning the Shawn Mackay ( first Australian pre World Cup 2009 Women`s 7s coach ) as best sevens player male or female following her international recognition as the best IRB female 7s player in 2009 and IRB female personality of the year in 2009.
- 2009 was the suprise of international 7s for Women. Australia proved that they may not have the regional competitions to be world champions in the rugby but our female athletes could certainly match the best in world 7s. Cheryl Soon in many ways not only lead the 7s team to World Cup success in Dubai but became a representative for the IRB with the IOC committee at two meetings in Lausanne Switzerland and finally in Copenhagen Denmark when 7s rugby was given Olympic status. It should be recorded that Cheryl took unpaid leave from Paper To Paper and paid for most of her own separate visiting expenses on two occasions over six months via London and Lausanne on behalf of the IRB and deserved her nomination as NSW Woman of the year in 2011 for her contribution to Women`s sport and her successes as the Wallaroo captain from 2007 to 2010.
- When test matches commenced in 1994 the average age of the team was 19 with one player 33 and another 26. Selena Worsley was only 17. Incidentally Selena until 2011 had played under every rugby and 7s Wallaroo coach as the most capped player in Australia`s Women`s history and is still regarded as one of the world`s best international # 6 in the history of the Women`s game. Others followed together with Sel, namely Cheryl Soon, Tui Ormsby, Alex Hargraves who were also capped in 7s and rugby in three World cups. In fact until the 2010 World Cup some of these inaugural 19 year olds were still playing elite rugby which gave them the necessary experience and determination for the Wallaroos to reach the final four in RWC London in 2010. The Black Ferns in 2010 as in most other years chose a very experience team with at least two players playing their fourth world cup including Anna Richards,probably the most famous female world rugby player who played her last successful test series for the Black Ferns at the age of 45 and is still playing NPC and 7s at 47 in 2011 and Monalisa Godling to again defeat England with the Wallaroos overcoming France to finish third. Not surprisingly the Wallaroos did not have an international warm up game nor any other rugby tournament in 2010 nor suprisingly even 7s in 2009 when they won the World Cup, these Wallaroos by then were then mostly mature players with many playing their second or third rugby world cups in the forwards Chris Ross,Kate Porter, Rebecca Trethowan, Lindsay Morgan, and Silei Poluleuligaga and many 7s champions including Ruan Sims,Nicole Beck,Debbie Hodginson,Trisha Brown,Toby McGann and Tui Ormsby who was first capped in 1997 against USA.
To date Australia has now participated in four World Cup rugby being Amsterdam 1998, Barcelona 2002, Edmonton 2006 and London in 2010. There have been 112 capped Wallaroos with Cap #1 Karla Clay. The best placed was third in 2010 with head coach John Manenti and his assistant Sean Barrett.
- It is no secret that Women playing rugby is not always welcomed by all males nor even female rugby supporters, including Rugby boards directors and female referees in many regions. It is not forgotten by former Wallaroos that the international World Cup tournament invitation for rugby from the IRB in 2002 was only accepted by the ARU for Barcelona after the IRB made this RWC conditional for the ARU to secure IRB host country selection for the next 2003 Men`s World Cup for Sydney. This ultimately for the ARU was a better financial result than sharing with NZ who had a ADIDAS sponsorship conflict with the IRB and this decision would bring many millions of profit into the ARU being a single destination tournament. The 2011 RWC for Men in New Zealand was later agreed to make up for the 2003 loss for NZ but also to respect NZ as the consistent leading rugby country for 7s,10s and rugby male and female. Fortunately rugby is for all shapes,sizes,age and gender and hopefully one day Australia will join most other developed countries and the IRB in having a Woman director on the ARU board.
- From the 2006 RWC in Edmonton Canada and with changes of directors at the ARU this negative Women`s attitude was relaxed further in 2007. In 2007 Cheryl Soon was appointed captain for a two test series in NZ. NZ home test matches returned in 2008 to Canberra, however beyond the 2009 RWC qualifying test in Samoa which the Wallaroos won 87 v 0 no more tests were held prior to the 2010 RWC in London. Unfortunately in 2011 Dr No reappeared back at the ARU from the bad old days so for 2011 and 2012 any eliterugby will be forgotten years.
- 7s rugby development staggered along domestically with only the Hong Kong 7s more open years of invitation being attended prior to the IRB insisting on sanctioned National teams approved which meant that the ARU declined most invitations. Whilst small sponsorship/donations was always part of 7s rugby together with fund raising it was not until 2007 that Hong Kong was fully sponsored and from 2008 and 2009 for Wallaroos rugby again by Paper To Paper. Unfortunately many major sponsorship opportunities were denied or even discouraged by the ARU after 2009 as these were conditional on exclusive utilisation of donations for Women. Up until 2012 this negative status remained, as did the negative progress and development of Women`s rugby in Australia. For this reason the Women`s rugby foundation was established in 2012 in an endeavour to fulfil the funding gap for essential non IRB 7s international tournaments and grass roots administration and development.
- Fortunately in 2008 there was a reprieve for 7s when the IRB finally realised that entry into the Olympics was conditional on Women`s inclusion. The ARU were reluctant to spend one cent on a Women`s 7s team which was fortunately salvaged by Paper To Paper sponsorship for 2008, 2009 and 2010 to Hong Kong resulting in the inaugural RWC 7s crown won in Dubai against the Black Ferns 15-10 in extra time.
The Wallaroos having qualified in Samoa going through undefeated, including the Black Ferns who are not accustomed to losing a final,did not play another 7s international tournament prior to the world cup 7s in Dubai. Incredibly all potential players paid there own way to the Darwin 7s to gain selection. Despite this lack of preparation the Wallaroos were victorious in the elimination round against England who were hot favourites which gave them the self belief that they could indeed win against any team including New Zealand. This successful team was coached by a Touch football specialist Jason Stanton with the support of Shirley Russell who paid her own way to Dubai and shared a room with the physio Simone Spooner. The bear Mark Rowe was manager.
- In 2011 the Australian Sports Commission ( ASC ) granted 7s rugby $450,000 each year for 5 years to prepare for the 2016 Olympics. seventeen elite players signed binding contracts with the ASC to travel and train at the AIS in Canberra and were initially coached by dual international Michael O`Connor. The players were compensated for costs for the first time and in doing so became semi professional which should soon qualified them for membership of RUPA previously exclusive for elite Men rugby. This 2011 Australian Sports Commission funding was a historical turning point for Women`s 7s. For the first time training camp travel cost were covered with each of the 17 squad players receiving an annual Government grant of $11,500. A full time National 7s coach Chris Lane was appointed in October 2011 and external players were invited to join from Touch and Netball ( Moana Gerard the brother of Wallaby Mark Gerard ) into the training squad.
2011 also saw the appointment of Dale Roberson by the ARU as Women`s national coordinator for men`s and women`s 7s,being a commitment to the ASC as part of their grant and to finally establish tournament schedules for National 7s each year and rugby the year prior and during World Cup years so two out of every four. Only one international tournament was played at the IRB Dubai 7s in 2011 where Australia ran third behind the winners Canada and runners up England.
- 2012 began serious 7s training and tournaments in preparation for the 2013 World Cup which may yet prove to be a significant qualifying criteria for the 2016 Olympics. With American and the Netherland teams already becoming fully professional since 2011 and of course England who remain government sponsored, international elite 7s for Women had arrived with many genuine contenders and indeed now favourites against NZ and Australia who cannot or will not match the funding and administrative support of most countries, instead resting on past successes in isolation of regular international competitions.