An American in Paris: Part I

"An American in Paris"

Tara M. Flanagan (lock) is a retired Women’s Eagle who played in the 1991 and 1994 IRB Women's Rugby World Cup for the U.S.A., and a proud member of the Eagles’ inaugural Women's World Cup Championship team in 1991.
Retired after the 1994 Women's Rugby World Cup to start her legal career, she became a lawyer, is now a state court Judge, and will be sharing insights and perspectives from week two of the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup in Paris.

Paris is a wonderful city and France a magnificent nation...

Americans have known this since Benjamin Franklin came here in 1776 as the first U.S. 'ambassador' to France, within a year of the colonists signing the Declaration of Independence. He risked his life by crossing the Atlantic to land on French shores- had the British caught him, he would have been hanged as a traitor in London.

August 2014 finds the USA Women’s Eagles in Paris at the Women’s Rugby World Cup, perhaps with less at risk then Mr. Franklin in 1776, but MUCH at stake.

And, like the French in 1776, in 2014 the French are showing themselves to be great (rugby) hosts.

Awaiting my flight to Paris from San Francisco yesterday in the business class lounge (thank you upgrades!), I was thrilled to see 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup headlines in the French national sports newspaper, L'Equipe.

A banner headline: "Superbes Blues,” celebrating the French women's win on August 9 over Australia that vaulted them into tomorrow's World Cup Semi-Finals against Canada.

The IRB website and other sources state that over TWO MILLION televisions in France were tuned in to the August 9 France v. Australia World Cup game. That's not a typo: Two Million!

Inside the sports pages, one of the several rugby stories within included a graphic showing the history of the Women’s World Cup, with a "USA Today”-esque illustrating who won each year of the Women’s Rugby World Cup and how well the French fared. ("1991 Vanqueur: Etats-Unis", translated: 1991 WINNER: United States! (Emphasis added!)) What a great experience to open the sports pages and see multiple stories about women's rugby. This was further confirmed upon arrival: In the neighborhood around the Stade Jean-Bouin, where the semis and Final will be played, there is buzz in the air about Les Blues, and the Women's Rugby World Cup as a whole.

Besides my love for the Eagles, one reason I came to Paris in 2014 was to see how the game and the World Cup have developed since we won the inaugural World Cup in 1991.

So far, things look GREAT for women’s rugby.

On the one hand, I'm not going to candy-coat it: it's hard to see the Eagles not in a semi-final. They will play tomorrow at the home of tournament's pool play (Marcoussis) rather than the home of the semis and final, the prestigious Stade Jean-Bouin. (less than 300 meters from my rented apartment here in a leafy Paris suburb....)

But I realize how lucky most of my teammates and I were - to ONLY have ever played in a World Cup Final. Though that hasn't happened for the US since 1998, the 2014 Eagles have given us much to be proud of so far.

First, the Eagles narrowly lost to Ireland in pool play, 23-17. Ireland (now a semi-finalist) went on to (rolling) maul New Zealand in their next pool play match, knocking NZ out of the winners bracket in what can only be deemed the biggest women’s rugby upset in 20 years. So, you do the math - we lost by six points to a semi-finalist/giant-slayer.

Next, tomorrow against Australia, USA prop Jamie Burke earns her 50th cap, while back row specialist Lynelle Kugler earns her 30th. Those numbers were unthinkable in the "1991" era. There simply weren't that many test matches available to play, let alone win a starting position and earn a cap.

Third, yesterday the Eagles were guests at a reception hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

So, like Ben Franklin, they are showing them to be true ambassadors and A-list guests! Let's agree it's a big deal when your nation's Embassy throws a reception for you!

Tomorrow it's USA v. Australia - and though it's the not the side of the bracket one hoped for, the game is an important one: for world rankings, which affects seeding at future tournaments, and an opportunity to build upon their game. 1991 Eagles Tam Breckenridge, Jen Levi, and I will be there in support. Stay tuned and GO EAGLES!