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Glory Days

US Women Eagles Win the
Inaugural Women's World Cup

In recognition of the upcoming 2006 World Cup, WomenEagles.com would like to take a few moments to relive the historic performance by the US Women's National team in 1991 at the inaugural Women's World Cup in Wales. The following story is reprinted from CJ Vosk's newsletter "In Support of Women's Rugby." Enjoy!

World Champions

Harder Stronger Faster
1991 US Women Eagles Win Inaugural World Cup

April 1991
By: CJ Vosk, "In Support of Women's Rugby"

The US Women Eagles brought home the coveted silver World Cup from the historic first Women's World Rugby Cup Competition held April 6-14, 1991 in Cardiff, Wales. Twelve countries participated, including England, Wales, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, the Soviet Union, Netherlands and Sweden.

April 1-2

The majority of team members met for an 8am, Monday departure from Newark International Airport. Except for a slightly late take-off, the five and a half hour flight was okay, transporting the Eagles into a cloudy and rainy environment at approximately 8:30 Tuesday morning, London time.

Meeting the Pacific Coast players and Krista McFarren (West) at Gatwick Airport, the Eagles took on the task of obtaining rental vans - not as simple as it may sound. The modern day wagon train (4 vans and Mrs. Orsini) then began the trek to Cardiff, Wales.

With no Indians in sight, but only turn-arounds, loops and interstates, the vans naturally managed to get separated. The first good omen then appeared as all safely, if not coincidentally, arrived at the destination at the exact same time, around 4pm. The Eagles had finally landed!

Well, there was that unexpected, minor change in accommodations - the Eagles had been ousted from the Hotel Diplomat into the Grand Hotel, just across from the Cardiff Castle.

World Cup Program Cover

But that is what dreams are made of...

The event was hosted by the Women's Rugby Football Union (Great Britain). The preliminary matches were held at various sites of supporting clubs - Cardiff, Glamoran Wanderers, Llanharen and Pontypool rugby a worthy stage on which to be played.

Wales is a country where rugby is the equivalent of what baseball is to Americans. The Welsh know rugby and judged the tournament by their standards. Noteworthy, Welsh referee Gareth Symmons voiced his approval following the US semi-final stating "... I am enchanted by the women's game."

"We have one goal..."

The first team meeting was 5:30 pm, Tuesday, in the hotel's "living room." It was followed by an easy run and stretch through Cardiff Park, led by assistant coach Chris Leach.

The rest of the week consisted of 7 am continental breakfasts (as in porridge, toast, tea, no fruit and questionable coffee). Next would come the ever eventful van drive to the Glamoran Wanderers fieldhouse for intense, double training sessions. Pete and Carl, two local ruggers, were there to assist Chris until head coach Kevin O'Brien could arrive later in the week. The weather remained cool and damp, the sun popping out only on rare occasions.

In mental preparation, Coach Leach focused on the Eagles's challenge. "We have one goal - everything ... respect, friends, The Cup."

To help ensure success, Eagle managers Jane Tierney and Anna Holzhauer had the never-ending task of planning each detailed minute for the US continent - from practice sessions, transportation, and laundry to kit distribution. Then, as the hour for a Thursday night scrimmage drew near, they had to contend with the case of the "missing identity." (plain blue track suits)

The Eagles took the pitch despite the kits, not to mention the rain, cold and wind which again moved. Just before kickoff, the lights did finally manage to flick on the Eagles went on to win the scrimmage. Patty Jervey, Candi Orsini, Morgan Whitehead, Sandy Meredith and Mary Sullivan (Sully) all scored as Mr. Lawrence O'Reilly and his Kiwis watched from behind the try zone.

And with the help of a local vendor, the team kit would soon become recognizable as "USA RUGBY" (now printed in big letters on the backs of the team's jackets.)

April 6 - Pontypoole
US 7 - Netherlands 0

As one of the favorites, the US advanced through the preliminary rounds by defeating the Netherlands 7-0. The combination of 50 degree temperatures, wind, and heavy, continuous rain throughout the entire match may in fact have been a tougher opponent then either New Zealand or England. To make matters worse, the US lost proven scrumhalf Barb Fugate within the first two minutes of play due to a knee injury. Patty Connell took over for her, inside the attacking five. At 8:03, Connell took the ball weakside and dished to wing Patty Jervey who splashed in for an alley try and the lead.

Netherlands tried to answer back with a 30 meter penalty kick, however, Mary Sullivan was able to safely touch the errant kick down for a 22 meter drop-out.

Just prior to the injury-time whistle, lock Andi Morrell hit a right field side ten-meter penalty kick, the ball just topping and skimming over the crossbar, widening the lead to 7-0.

Despite no further scoring in the second half, the efforts of all the ruggers under such extremely adverse weather conditions could not be ignored. Players noted their own teammates performances. Flyhalf Mary Dixey used the kick well as Morgan Whitehead at flanker and Patty Connell exerted tremendous defensive pressure. Helping to keep them focused, one found Orsini "inspirational". Head coach Kevin O'Brien would later state he was "very impressed with the tenacity and determination" of the US players, but further urged them "to work on consistency, working as a team."

Referee Andrew Evens of London, England said, "To be honest, I don't know how they finished. They were magnificent, both sides - outstanding."

Netherland skipper Coach Dominique Dandon said they key was confidence. "We knew the US was fit. We were fit. If fit, we can do anything. We knew we could do the technical, but we had to build confidence to win. It is hard to build confidence. We pumped them ... they (Netherlands) played terrific. Even though we lost, we accomplished much."

April 10 - Glamoran
US 49 - Soviet Union 0

Russian clip

After a quiet first ten minutes of play, the Eagles opened up with a flourish of loops and scissors to demolish the Soviet Union 46 - 0.

Wing Sandy Meredith scored first for the US with Jen Crawford getting the assist.

Stemming from a lineout 20 minutes in, inside center Jen Crawford fed Candi Orsini the ball. Orsini broke through the gap and galloped fifty plus yards for her first of two trys. Flyhalf Chris Harju converted her first of five for the day.

Jan Rutkowski would set the line up again, taking a short lineout ball from outside the 22 all the way down to the try line. The ball emerged and traveled out to Patty Jervey on the far wind. Jervey found her way in for her first of three trys.

Orsini scored her second after fielding a kicked ball off the bounce and once again running over fifty yards before the half was history.

In the second half, Jen Crawford added a try to her two assists. Not to be outdone, the pack got further involved in the action as #8 Kathy Flores scooped the ball. A dive pass moved it to the line. In the grasp of two defenders, Crawford tuned inside, giving the ball to lock Tara Flanagan. Flanagan seized the opportunity to cap her first international appearance with an try.

A Mary Sullivan score increased the US lead to 40. The final try came off a scrum near the attacking 22. With beautiful execution, Crawford scissored with Orsini. The outside center then completed a double scissors with Jervey she blasted up the middle for the try. Harju's final conversion ended the onslaught. The victory earned the US a trip to the semi-finals.

Other Matches

Earlier in the week, New Zealand defeated Canada 24-6, to advance into the semi-final against the US. France pommelled Japan 62-0 and Sweden 37-0 en route to their semi-final contest against England. England defeated Spain and Italy 12-0 and 25-9 respectively.

"For your country... "

In the present tense, World Cup Competitions are interesting. They come equipped with dignitaries, ceremonial flag raising and waving, speeches, parades and presentations. There is the meeting of old and new rugby friends and acquaintances. There are team photo sessions and interviews (lots of them) for papers, television, and radio. There are press releases and the search by the press for stories.. in Wales, there are "teas". Time does not belong to you.

There is preparation - for oneself and for the team. There is competition with one's self, with a teammate, with a foreign team.

There is defeat for all but one.

April 12 - 2 pm

The New Zealand pack poses
for pre-game photos.

Drying boots line the radiators
in the Grand Hotel.

The local bookies were busy taking the 8-1 odds against the US for its impending showdown against New Zealand. The US Eagles were busy in the "living room" of the Grand Hotel, located directly across from Cardiff Arms Park Junior Stadium, site of the World Cup semi and final matches.

"What we need is total commitment and pressure. Tackle your heart out - crucify the backs coming in. Back row - crucify the scrumhalf... blast the scrum. Go down, come up and snap. Front and second row - go back over their second. Back row - be ___ aggressive. Seal the ball off from the opposition.. expose their weaknesses. No one else has properly."

"There will be sideline referees who will watch and who have the right and who will call dirty play.. make the first contact. It is psychologically important. If something happens - your time will come... be harder, stronger, faster. There are two D's. Decimate the opposition with devastating tackling. CL

A player asks a question: "will there be tackling dummies there?" A teammate answers: "Yes. they'll be wearing black jerseys."

Lastly, to the selected fifteen... "when you're tired and feeling all alone, remember, there are twenty others with you. Take some energy from us.. we have a score to settle. - Barb Fugate

The team walked across the street to Cardiff Stadium.

April 12 - Cardiff
US 7 - New Zealand 0

The long anticipated match between the All Blacks and Eagles finally got underway, the US in white, New Zealand in black. Adding to an already electric atmosphere was the background chant of the American supporters, " Harder, stronger, faster!" The international crowd soon realized it was witnessing an awesome display of rugby.

The US missed the first opportunity to score as a penalty kick just fell short, wide right. New Zealand missed its own two chances of the same shortly after.

In a total team effort, O'Brien's squad continued to adhere to its game plan as the Eagles denied the All Blacks the ball and gainline. NZ began to rely more heavily on the kick to avoid pressure by the US tackling assault, with McFarren and Orsini coming through with key performances.

Using a combination of kicks and aggressive running, the Eagles worked back into scoring position. Flyhalf Chris Harju capitalized on an awarded 18-meter penalty kick before the half to give the US a slim 3-0 edge.

As the 18:30 mark of the final period, the American chants for "Helga (MA Sorenson), Hedda (Jen Crawford) and USA were echoing through the stadium. The Eagles were inside the attacking five, their dominance ever-increasing.

New Zealand called for an injury replacement. Referee Gareth Symmons then signaled for the ball to be put into play. The front row of Annie Flavin, Val Sullivan, and MA Sorensen led the US snap/shove which moved the Kiwi pack back a step. Then, in a memorable display of coordinated teamwork, the Eagle pack stepped in unison for four meters and an impressive walkover try. Barb Bond was credited with the official "touch". The unconverted try left the US with a 7-0 margin.

Although they didn't give up, the Kiwis were unable to dig deep enough to avert their impending doom. Both the Eagle offensive and defensive pressure was relentless. The final 7-0 score was not indicative of the authority with which the US with which the US controlled the game. Only sheer Kiwi luck denied the Eagles another score as a brilliant run by wing Patty Jervey ended with a knock-on in-goal. It was only one of many runs enjoyed by the US line.

Following the match, NZ coach Lawrence O'Reilly noted the US physical dominance in lineouts and the team's clear strategic plan. He also specifically noted the play of Eagle flanker Clare Godwin. "#6... she's very, very good."

During the post match tea, O'Reilly quoted "We were clearly the second side. We know when we've been beaten by a good side - with the best of skills. your' an awesome side - fast, strong, mean. I personally congratulate the US women's side."

Local newspaper coverage
heralded Welsh Coach Kevin
O'Brien and the US Eagles.

Russian clip

For Welsh-born and Cardiff native coach Kevin O'Brien, it was a tremendous homecoming.

Following the NZ match, the Eagles had team upstairs in the stadium's Air-Space Lounge. They also had a bird's eye view of their next and final opponent as England defeated France 13-0.

The final team practice was held Saturday morning, April 13, following the announcement of team selections for Sunday's title match.

Many of the traveling reserves were joined by some US players and supporters for an international pick-up match Saturday afternoon. It was held at the Institute where most of the other teams were housed and scene of the plate Competition. The US had nearly enough for its own side, but gracious divided itself to keep the atmosphere fun.

Saturday night the American entourage regrouped for a team dinner. They also bought out the local newsstands which carried a full color picture of the Eagles in action against NZ.

Early Sunday, some went out in the freezing cold for yet another interview/taping session at the BBC studio grounds. It was then back to the hotel to await the final team briefing in the living room.

April 14

First point. "Deny them the ball. Think of who you are playing with... you will have to dig very, very deep. They will come out very, very hard. Dig deeper today then you've every dug before." - Kevin O'Brian

"The English mind-set.. they never give up. They will be harder than the All Blacks... they will never give up. The only way to beat them is to score points... over and over again. The match will belong to the team with the least mistakes..." - Chris Leach

April 14
US 19 - England 6

The English scrum came out strong. The US appeared flat as they remained bottled inside their defensive territory. With a wind advantage, England attempted two penalty kicks, but missed both. Still the Americans, in red, could not seem to get on track.

At 14:43, England was awarded a penalty try as an Eagle fell on the ball prematurely during a walkover attempt. Gillian Burns converted to give England a 6-0 lead

The score may have been the spark needed by the Americans. (Those points would be the only scored against the Eagles for the entire tournament.) In spurts, a red jersey would shine through with an individual effort. It became catching and the team started to gel. Momentum began to change.

Eagle #8 Kathy Flores gained possession and sent the ball up the sideline with a kick. Outside center Candi Orsini regained possession to run into touch on the grandstand side inside the attacking ten. Maintaining position, the US was awarded a penalty kick. At 32:55, Chris Harju booted the ball through the posts, cutting the opponent's lead 3-6.

In the second half, the Eagles took charge. With a scrum approximately 15 meters out, lock Tam Breckenridge took the ball and ran. Aided by flanker Morgan Whitehead, the ball then was transferred to Flores. Continuing the exchange with a slipping maul, Connell, Flores and finally Claire Godwin all handled the ball, Godwin falling in to the center try. Harju's conversion put the Eagles on top for the first time, 9-6, with only five minutes elapsed.

Three minutes later, red found itself on the forty in a lineout situation. Fighting successfully for possession, Connell connected with th line. The ball moved to the outside center. Orsini flipped to Krista McFarren. Mary Sullivan then inserted form fullback and moved the ball to inside the attacking five.

A quick lineout to Godwin found the flanker diving in before the English even reacted for her second score of the day and a 13-6 difference.

The Eagles were on a mission to "score over and over again."

At 18:00, Tara Flanagan took control in a lineout and then stormed towards the try line from England's 25. Gaining substantial yardage, Flanagan dished to scrumhalf Connell. Connell scampered through the defense for a 17-6 US lead.

As England's fullback Jane Mitchell was forced to leave the game, injured while trying to save the try, Harju converted for a 19-6 difference.

The Eagle scoring attack quieted down, but only after completing the groundwork for the title 'World Champions."

Post Match

During the traditional gift exchange at the post-match tea, English captain Karen Almond congratulated the US saying, "We played our best, but in the end, our best wasn't good enough. We were beaten by a better side."

John Smith questioned of the Eagles, "How can we form such a club in Cardiff?"

Kevin O'Brien said it was this way, "It was a very good game, played with great spirit. It was a tremendous advertisement for women's rugby."

"This is a tremendous squad, but we could not have won without all of you... everyone..."

Special thanks go to the following USA Eagle sponsors and contributors: Rugby Imports, PowerBars, HK International, Cotton Oxford, MET NY RFU, John Horshok, USA Rugby, Leather Balls, Triton Sports and Land's End. All individual donations were greatly appreciated with special recognition to: Met New York RFU/ $500 donation; those contributing $100 or more - Ed Lee, Suzann Jordan, Vicki Bowlin, Peter Buckley, Gotham City WRC and Luftig Corporation.

Obviously, many would have like to have attended this historic event, but were not able. Many made financial donations, or donations in terms of time, organization and encouragement. These efforts were not forgotten and sincerely were included in Kevin's "everyone."

The following is a list of those fortunate enough to have traveled to Wales. In various roles, they also gave support and were a part of history: Mr. and Mrs. Bond, Chris Casatelli, Suzanne Cobarruvias, Ellen Cunningham, Pat Glenn, Liz Goldenberg, Nina Gowl, Jami Jordan, Joe Kelly, Terence Lee, Laurel Lockett, Louise, Kath Mullen, Mrs. Betty Orsini, Elaine Rechiutti, Emil Signes, CJ Vosk, Juliana.

USA Women Eagles 1991 World Cup Team

Anne Barford
Barb Bond
Tam Breckinridge
Patty Connell
Jen Crawford
Mary Dixey
Colleen Fahey
Tara Flanagan
Annie Flavin
Kathy Flores
Barb Fugate
Claire Godwin
Chris Harju
Tracy Henderson
Jennifer Hertz
Elise Huffer
Sheri Hunt
Cassie Law
Krista McFarren
Sandy Meredith
Andi Morrell
Joan Morrissey
Candi Orsini
Jan Rutkowski
Cathy Seabaugh
Maryanne Sorenson
Mary Sullivan
Val Sullivan
Julie Thompson
Pam White
Morgan Whitehead
Patty Jervey

Kevin O'Brien
Chris Leach

Jane Tierney
Anna Holzhauer

Sharon Wallace