- We look back at England Women's 1987 match with Wales
- Wales face the Red Roses on Saturday
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On 5 April 1987 30 women players ran out onto a rugby pitch in the colours of England and Wales for the very first time at Pontypool Park.
“It was incredible to be a part of, considering the history and rivalry of the fixture,” said Carol Isherwood, captain of England 30 years ago.
The Red Roses face Wales on Saturday (KO 11.30am, live on Sky Sports 3) in the second round of this year's Women's Six Nations, with the clash hotly anticipated after both sides won their opening matches of the competition.
Wales v England is now a regular fixture in the rugby calendar, but their contest 30 years ago marked the first time either country had played an official match, with England coming out on top 22-4.
Women’s international rugby had been played before then, in fact a Great Britain team captained by Isherwood were defeated by France 14-8 on 19 April 1986 in Richmond.
As it turned out, some of this Great Britain side would be on opposing teams less than a year later in Pontypool.
Washing up duties
On 4 April 1987 the England squad travelled to Wales and stayed in Chepstow youth hostel a short drive away from the ground, training at the town’s army barracks the evening before the match.
England Women’s first ever captain for the fixture recalls the rota the squad took up on their trip and the surprising crowd that turned up to watch."People who were walking their dogs came over and started watching."
“I can remember the night before the match the forwards had to do the washing up and the next morning the backs did it,” said Isherwood.
“It was a good atmosphere when we arrived, the ground was an open park so people who were walking their dogs came over and started watching, they couldn't believe there was game of women's rugby going on.
“Whenever you go down to Wales you get some stick, it wasn’t hostile but it was certainly a partisan crowd of around 700 people, which in those days was big.”
‘We all felt such pride’
Isherwood was born in Leigh in 1961 and naturally grew up surrounded by the presence of rugby league in the area.
She was inspired to take up the form of rugby union as a student at the University of Leeds and went on to set up a ladies team at the university."We all felt such pride in pulling on an England shirt for the first time."
Isherwood admits playing an international game of rugby union at Pontypool Park was a distant dream at this point.
She said: “When we started playing rugby as a group we never thought we’d ever have an international side, after university everyone anticipated that it would end there.
“However we carried on with help from some men’s sides and it was a fantastic feeling seeing all the hard work come to fruition that day in Pontypool.
“We all felt such pride in pulling on an England shirt for the first time, and being captain that day made it such a special experience.
“Having said that we paid for our own shirts that day. I still have mine, it’s framed on the wall at home.”
‘If you wanted it to happen you made it happen’
England’s side that day included several founding members of the Rugby Football Union for Women, among them Isherwood and current head of women’s performance at the RFU Nicky Ponsford.
The RFUW group organised the first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991, which was won by the United States.
Isherwood was the first female to be appointed to the committee of the IRB Council in 2009 and she went on to be awarded an OBE for her services to women’s rugby in 2013."There is real training, conditioning, and support for the women’s game, which is amazing to see."
She maintains that being one of the pioneers of the women’s game was an uphill task but England’s team back then were a more than capable side.
“30 years on, I’d like to think we had a pretty decent side in terms of fitness and rugby brains," she said.
“The players that were involved that day had watched the game for years and had a love of the game.
“A lot of us there helped organise training, matches, tournaments. We ran a World Cup a few years later so in that sense we were always ambitious. If you wanted it to happen you made it happen.
“Nowadays players can focus on their rugby and getting on the pitch to produce the best performances they can.
“There is real training, conditioning, and support for the women’s game, which is amazing to see, but that wasn’t the case back then.”
30 players will run out onto the pitch at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday in front of a bumper crowd and television cameras, yet they will know that none of this would have been possible without the efforts of those that tread the path before them 30 years earlier.