An American in Paris: Part IV

"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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014: Rest Day in Paris

After Wednesday’s epic rugby-fan day, we greatly appreciated our "rest" day today. I never thought about this when I was playing, but the matches are exhausting and draining for the supporters too!

Wonderful rest day lunch today with Eagles Coach Pete Steinberg in Paris' Marais neighborhood. So appreciative he could break away from Eagles Camp and talk rugby with us. I am very impressed by Pete's passion and vision for the game, and his ideas about how to further elevate the USA's game and rugby culture. Also, he ate two desserts - wow! What's not to love about a man who eats like a lock!?

Pete generously invited us out to the Eagles’ practice on Friday afternoon. We will watch practice and attend the prestigious jersey ceremony that evening. What an honor. We are all IN! Look for updates about that in tomorrow's post.

I wrote in my last edition about my glimpse of the future of women's rugby at the semi-finals. At that match, we saw some incredible world-class rugby. One "dummy" and run move by the backup Canada scrum half, who went the length of the field for a try, was the stuff that highlight films are made of.

But there was something more -

At Stade Jean Bouin, you could actually feel the excitement and electricity in the air. Just upon entering the stadium, you knew you were attending a first-class athletic event. There were security guards, ticket-takers, people who checked your bag and patted you down, ushers who checked your tickets and pointed you to your seat.

The stadium was packed to the rafters with fans of every demographic: women, men, children, families, couples, old and young - many wearing rugby jerseys, national colors, with faces painted, funny rugby hats. There was even one guy dressed in a French rooster outfit. (Tried to get a pic after the match, but let me report that the French rooster moves pretty fast and I couldn't catch him. One would have thought all those feathers would slow him down...)

Looking around the stadium, flashes of color and movement - it seemed like every fourth person was waving a tricolor French flag. Canada flags and banners hung here and there.

At the wall of the stadium near the rafters is the flag of every country playing in this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup.

My eyes moved quickly and found the Stars and Stripes. America. Yes, we are here.

The Stade Jean Bouin fans were loud. Heartfelt "Allez Les Bleues" cheers went round and round the stadium. Repeatedly, for 40 minutes. At one point, the crowd spontaneously broke into singing the French national anthem, La Marseilles.

Television cameras were filming from opposite corners of the field, sending the match around the world. I learned later that the match was shown live in Canada, on a sports channel called TSN. During the game, replays of big plays were shown on the jumbotrons. Throughout the second half, the knowledgeable rugby crowd cheered and reacted accordingly.

To see, hear and feel 20,000 people so passionate about women's rugby and to see the professional surroundings, I knew at that moment that women’s rugby had crossed the threshold into the 'big time.'

Compare and contrast: When we played the 1991 World Cup FINAL in Cardiff Arms Park, Wales, there were maybe 3,000 people in attendance. Not that it mattered to us- we were playing for our country and ourselves, and we didn't think twice about it. To be honest, 3,000 people was a huge women’s rugby crowd back then.

Also, security? In 1991 I think people just walked into the stadium. I'm not sure they even sold tickets. Interlopers were often on the sideline, in the after-parties, getting on our team bus. Here in France, I have had my media credential checked so many times it feels like I am at the Pentagon.

A smaller crowd in Marcoussis for the US v. Australia match, true, but still a world-class pitch, a professionally-organized event, and world-class athletes playing their hearts out for their countries. Against Australia I saw proud Americans - backs to the wall, fighting back in the way we pride ourselves on as Americans. Sometimes down but never out. Refusing to fold, refusing to lose. Willing themselves to win. I saw a team led by a smart, savvy coaching staff, dedicated team managers, top-notch support staff, medical/physio/sports psychologists, and USA Rugby staff on hand.

It's phenomenal to see these athletes get the attention, respect, support, and adoration they and the game of international women's rugby deserve.

For those of us who played in the first (or second, or third) World Cup, it brings us enormous pride to see the growth of the game, and to see these 2014 Eagles at the World Cup.

We believe in them. We may not know all of them or for some of us, any of them; of those we know, we may not know them well. Still, they are like sisters to us. We are intrinsically connected to them and they to us.

We love them.

Some part of us is there with them each time they pull the jersey on and the national anthem plays. We hope they feel it... Always. But especially Sunday at 2:00 P.M. at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris against New Zealand for 5th place. GO EAGLES.