Like soccer--at least before this year's World Cup--rugby is a sport followed mainly outside of North America. Sure, there are amateur leagues and college and university teams across the United States and Canada, but this rough-and-tumble sport just doesn't emerge at the top of the heap when it comes to sports coverage close to home.
Even less popular in the mainstream is women's rugby. Nonetheless, Canada and the United States boast some of the world's best female players--and contrary to popular opinion, they aren't all six-feet tall, beefy, and ready to rip your head off. This summer, they may finally get the attention they deserve as they show their stuff at the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup, taking place in Paris, France.
Running from August 1 to 17, the competition has now been around for more than 20 years. According to the event's official website, the Women's Rugby World Cup was first held in Cardiff back in 1991 when the United States took home the trophy. Though some of this year's athletes weren't even born at that time, the success of that tournament paved the way for women's rugby in the present day and "proved the viability of an international competition."
Today, it's no surprise that Europe boasts the highest number of teams in the tournament of 12. England, France, Ireland, Spain, and Wales will all be taking part. Australia and the defending champions of New Zealand, known for its strong support of the game, will also take to the field. The remaining five teams, however, show just how widespread passion for the sport is in the world. Canada and the United States will also compete alongside Kazakhstan, Samoa, and South Africa.
So what can you expect from a World Cup in rugby? This promo video should give you an idea. "The women's game has never been so competitive with several teams coming to France knowing they have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy in Paris on August 17," says Bernard Lapasset, the chairman of the International Rugby Board, which will be live-streaming some of the matches. "The Women's Rugby World Cup in 2010 was a watershed for the sport, and I expect we will see the skill and intensity levels rise even further this time around in Paris."
Women's rugby has especially grown in the last five years, partly due to the sport's inclusion in the Summer Olympics. The number of women and girls actively playing the game now totals about 1.5 million, or one quarter of overall players. These inspiring photos of Harvard's women's rugby team, pointed out by Bustle, show women of a variety of shapes and sizes can find a place in the game.
As she gears up for the World Cup, Team Canada competitor and Caledon, Ontario native Jane Kirby tells Rugby Canada, "I want to make sure I go into this competition with a competitive edge." She'll compete alongside her University of Guelph teammates Jacey Murphy and Brittany Benn and the rest of the Canadian women, and will be keeping a close watch on Team New Zealand.
"Growing up, no matter what level you play at New Zealand is always the team people refer to," Kirby says. They can also be one of the most intimidating. Known for a pre-game performance called the Haka, seen here, New Zealand will be a force to be reckoned with--but anything can happen. After all, that's part of the thrill when the best players of women's rugby battle on the world stage.