The British & Irish Lions: a new chapter in women’s history

The British & Irish Lions: a new chapter in women’s history

What exactly would the formation of a women’s Lions team mean for young, aspiring rugby players? In short, it would mean everything. For those not in the know, the British and Irish Lions squad brings together the most talented players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to play in a global tournament. The tournament is played every four years and started back in 1888. To say the tour is a big deal is an understatement. You only have to look at the amount of attention, both from fans and the media, the squad announcement gained this year to understand just how important this competition is. So where do we stand on the creation of a women’s Lions’ team? Fortunately, progress has already been made. Back in 2019, British and Irish Lions bosses began talks with the home unions regarding the creation of a women’s team. Since then, a study has been funded by Royal London to investigate the feasibility of a British & Irish Lions women’s tour. When I first learnt about this research my gut reaction was to question exactly what Royal London would be looking into? Surely it would be a no brainer decision to start a women’s tour. However, once I mulled it over, I realised, actually, there are a fair few hurdles we must overcome before committing to this. And like anything, it is vital that it is well thought out and completed properly to ensure absolute success. I won’t go into detail on each point, but there are still some stark challenges that need to be addressed first. Challenges which I assume will form the basis of this study. Not all female players are fully professional in the game, most are still having to balance the demands of a full-time job alongside training. Of course, there are a small (but growing) minority who are on full time professional contracts, but this is yet to extend across all four home nations. Also, with the formation of the squad questions have been asked regarding the format of the tournament. Would the tour mirror the men in terms of opposition? If that is the case, would the games be competitive? YOUNG GIRLS What is clear though, is that the formation of a female Lions team would mean the world to young girls across the world. The fact that there is no official women’s team has not stopped girls from across the country dreaming of representing their home counties. “A dream come true would be to play for my country, Wales, and hopefully there will be a women’s Lions team to be proudly part of in the future” – Freya Perry, 12. “My rugby dream is to play for the women’s Lions team against New Zealand” – Lucy Bull, 10. Every athlete works better when they have an overarching goal to work towards. The fact that these young girls are already setting their sights high on being in a Lions squad which doesn’t even exist, speaks volumes. Just imagine how many more young girls would have the same dream if the tour was officially announced. Let’s take a moment here to talk about the women already involved at an elite level. This Lions team isn’t just for the young girls starting their rugby journeys, it’s also about the women who are already well into their rugby careers. To be chosen as part of the Lions tour is huge. You only have to look at the reactions from players who were not chosen this year to understand how much of an honour this really is. I spoke to England legend and current Girls Rugby Club advisory board member Rocky Clark about this. She said for players it would be the “Ultimate honour to represent the home nations and players would be over the moon to be selected.” Many Red Roses, such as Rocky, have been lucky enough to represent their country at the highest level. So, what is stopping us adding an extra level on top of that with a women’s Lions’ tour? Speaking on the format of the proposed tour, Rocky said: “Initially I’d tail it on to the men’s competition. You already have all the facilities, backing, fan base and opposition. It would be easy to do double headers.” She finished by remarking: “Great idea, the sooner the team is formed, the better.” The beauty of the women’s game being in its infancy is that we have an opportunity to carve out a game that works in our favour. We do not have to follow in the direct footsteps of the men’s game, we have the flexibility and opportunity to create something that works for us.
You only have to listen to the men’s rugby fans who have been crying out for a global rugby calendar for years, to no success, and then compare that to the new World Rugby WXV women’s competition announced earlier this year. Now, I am not saying that it’s all positives here in the women’s game, but we must acknowledge that we have the flexibility to pave a new road with this tournament. Every single ex-Lions player could probably tell you the history of the tournament right back to 1888, so how about we create a piece of history of our own? How brilliant would it be to look back in say 15 years-time and to be able to explain the in-depth history of the women’s Lions competition to our own daughters? To finish up, I will leave you with this from Frankie, a ten-year-old rugby fan: “How is it fair that the men get to travel all round the world and see new places when the women have to stay here. If the men are going anyway, why can’t they take the women too.” Stella

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