- 23 years ago England's women won their first World Cup
- The Red Roses will be defending their title next month in Ireland
- Read about the history of the Women's Rugby World Cup
When it comes to a Women's Rugby World Cup, England’s women know how to perform – the reigning champions have never finished lower than third when competing with the world’s best.
Back in 1994, the build-up to the Women’s World Championship (WWC), as it was known at the time rather than a World Cup, was very different than it is today.
Take That’s ‘Everything Changes’ topped the charts, Nelson Mandela was about to be sworn in as South Africa’s first ever black president and the Channel Tunnel was on the verge of opening to connect Great Britain and mainland Europe for the first time. The WWC, meanwhile, had to switch from the Netherlands to Scotland after issues getting backing for the tournament from the International Rugby Board.
England's women progressed to the final after group wins over hosts Scotland and then Russia, and then knockout victories over Canada and France. Despite some boos from the Edinburgh crowd in the final over their style of play, it did nothing to deter them from beating the holders USA 38-23 after losing to the Americans three years previously.
Here are the 15 women who started the final and won England's first ever rugby world championship.
The final XV
15 Jane Mitchell - The twin sister of scrum-half Emma, Jane spent a year travelling to and from San Francisco to attend training camps in the build-up and then to compete in the tournament. She made her debut in 1988, six months after her sister, and overcame a hamstring problem to score a try in the final. Mitchell now works as a senior business analyst in California.
14 Val Blackett - One of many members of the squad who was also part of the squad in 1991, Blackett gave up county athletics to focus on her rugby career and only had a couple of caps before she started in the final. The wing last played for England in 1995 but continued playing club rugby until three seasons ago where she was playing at the age of 47 at Bristol Ladies.
13 Jacquie Edwards - Edwards was working for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in housing benefits but had to quit her job to play as they would not give her time off. A try scorer in the final, she described it as a “dream tournament” for her personally. Her last appearance for her country was in 1998 and she retired soon after. She now works as PA to the University of Kent director of sport and in her spare time manages a funk and soul band as well as singing in a big band (below).
12 Giselle Mather - Mather spent nine years as an England international up until 1998 when she retired and moved into coaching. Since then she has had spells at London Irish, England Women Under 20 and England women's backs coach, as well as a four-year stint as head coach of Teddington Antlers Men’s 1st XV. Mather is now director of rugby at Wasps Ladies.
11 Annie Cole - Saracens wing Cole made her England debut in 1992 after the first World Cup and won 13 caps in her career. During the tournament she played against Russia, Canada and the USA, scoring a try against the Canadians.
10 Karen Almond - Captain Almond kicked five conversions and a penalty in the final and said her personal highlight was ending up on a TV chat show with Dannii Minogue and Eddie the Eagle talking about the win. Since then, she has spent 14 years in New Zealand where she continued to play rugby for Canterbury and Christchurch until a serious knee injury, followed by then breaking and dislocating her ankle, meant she had to retire from the game at 36. Almond then switched to playing football for Western until the age of 45. She now lives in Perth, Australia and works for Australia Post and still plays in touch rugby masters tournaments.
9 Emma Mitchell - The second Mitchell twin made her debut in 1988 and played in four World Cups before her retirement in 2002 after captaining her country nine times. She balanced training with working as a sales manager for a higher education publishing company and said “it was like a dream” to play alongside twin sister Jane in the final in front of her parents. After four years working in the USA, she is now the performance lifestyle technical lead with the English Institute of Sport, focusing on GB Hockey.
1 Jane Coats - Coats was at college on a course for higher education at the time and was financially supported by her parents so that she could afford to play. She said she remembers being in the dressing room before the final ‘convinced’ that the team would win. Coats now works at a secondary school with children with special educational needs and is a qualified football coach.
2 Nicky Ponsford - Now the RFU head of women’s performance, Ponsford lined up in the front row for England in the 1994 final. She has gone on to be a vital part of the women’s game in this country and was awarded an MBE for her efforts across the game. Ponsford was the team leader for Great Britain’s Women’s Sevens team at Rio Olympics in 2016.
3 Sandra Ewing - Ewing, who won 17 caps for England, was working as a secretary at an engineering company during the tournament but was allowed time off to go to Scotland. She remembers using a sports psychologist for the first time. Ewing has since moved to New Zealand to complete a computing degree and works as an IT consultant for Fonterra.
4 Sarah Wenn - Wenn worked as a senior site planner for a large construction company at the time and played in the first World Cup during her 25-cap career, retiring from rugby not long after the win in Edinburgh. She recalls feeling how battered her body was playing the amount of games they had to in such a short period of time. Now works as a senior project controls manager at Heathrow Airport.
5 Heather Stirrup - Another member of the losing 1991 team, Stirrup was a teacher in Hertfordshire at the time. She said the proudest moment of her career was having her parents at the final, particularly her mum who had Parkinson’s disease who she ran to lift up at the final whistle. Stirrup was England women’s team manager at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and after a tour of Canada with the team, it convinced her to move across the pond in 2005 to Vancouver where she has been working as a maths teacher at St George’s and continues to coach rugby.
6 Janis Ross - Vice captain Ross was working as a town planner for the London Borough of Waldam Forest at the time, and used to run at lunchtimes and then train after work to stay match fit. She retired after the World Cup in 1998 after earning 43 caps, as well as five for Great Britain. She is close to completing a Master’s degree in Psychology after initially retraining as a physiotherapist.
7 Gill Burns - The third try scorer in the final, Burns was working as a teacher in Warrington during the tournament and had to take two weeks unpaid leave to be able to compete. She retired in 2002 at the age of 38 after a 14-year international career, including a five-year spell as England captain until 1999. In 2005 she was awarded an MBE for her services to the game and had a 10-year stint as president of the WRFU.
8 Genevieve Shore - Shore combined playing for Wasps with her job as a sales director 23 years ago, but after the final she spent a year away from the game because of injuries, but returned to play club rugby up until 2002. After working in various director roles, Shore is as a non-executive director and advisor for a number of companies and lives in the Scottish Highlands.
Steve Dowling – head coach – Before getting the job as coaching England’s women, Dowling spent time coaching county rugby for Hertfordshire. After taking charge of Great Britain’s women, he was then appointed director of coaching of the England women’s team between 1989 and 1995 and is now a lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. He was assisted by Steve Jew or Steve Peters during their time in Scotland.
Carol Isherwood – performance director – captained both Great Britain and England in their first ever internationals and a founder member of WRFU, she was awarded a OBE for her services to the game in 2003 and was inducted into the World Rugby half of fame in 2014. Now the London regional manager for the Football Association.
An England women’s legends team featuring some of the members of the 1994 final will take on an Ireland women’s legends team on Friday 25 August the night before the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup final.