A windmill and the Arc de Triomphe. This is the poster of the programme announcing the encounter "Ladies Rugby Interland" between France and the Netherlands. It was 13 June, 1982, an historic day in the world of rugby as the first women's international game was played.
In France, women's rugby made its debut less than 15 years earlier. It is in Bourg-en-Bresse that the oldest club in France was established, the “Violettes Bressanes”, whose players wore purple jerseys. Other clubs gradually emerged in the following years: Villemur-sur-Tarn, Toulouse, Villeurbanne, Auch... The French Association of Women's Rugby (AFRF) was created in 1970 and the first edition of a French women's championship was launched the following year with 22 teams.
"There were far fewer teams than there are now," said second-row Annick Jambon. She was 14 when she started, "thanks to a supervisor who played rugby".
"We had to fight to be recognised because at the beginning it was not considered a sport for girls. We had no referee, we played in cow fields,” says Monique Fraysse, who became captain of France a few years later. “Above all, it was the pleasure of playing that motivated us. As far as I was concerned, it was a way of expressing myself, an expression through action, which allowed us to let off steam because I was very shy. Words were not a strong point.”
Birth of a national women's XV
In addition to matches between teams, the first exchanges took place between the clubs and the Netherlands. “It was one of the countries that was more active in terms of women's rugby; we had no contact with the English at that time,” explains Viviane Berodier, who is considered today as a living encyclopedia for women's rugby in France.
Step-by-step, the idea made its way to organise a real match between the two countries, with the initiative of the president of the AFRF, Henri Fléchon. This therefore required a women's French team. Claude Izoard, a member of the staff of Violettes Bressanes and vice-president of AFRF, was named coach.
"We got together, and they made regional selections," says Annick Jambon. "The coaches already knew us because they were used to seeing us around," adds Monique Fraysse, who already had 12 years of rugby behind her.
A French team was assembled with 22 players (from five clubs), two coaches, a manager, and a medical officer. A single camp was organised on the weekend for the players and staff to get to know each other and learn to play together.
A long bus ride
Jambon and Berodier were both part of the team. Judith Benassayag was appointed captain. The team also had twins: the Fraysse sisters, Nicole and Monique, who both played centre, inside and outside. The only way to recognise them was by the colour of their hair. "I had a brown color, while Nicole kept her natural pepper and salt colour," laughs Fraysse.
The first female national team arrived in Chilly-Mazarin, in the Paris region, on Saturday, 12 June, 1982 for a final training session. "Claude Izoard repeated some automatisms with the pack and Jacky Leterre took care of the back lines," recalls Berodier.
That day, the girls discovered their white outfit, with three bands on the side. “We were not allowed to wear the rooster because we were a women's federation. We had a tricolor badge instead,” admits Fraysse. The city council of Chilly-Mazarin received the French delegation and a last meal was eaten together before boarding the bus to Utrecht, nearly 500km away. The bus was welcomed at the beginning of the evening at the De Prie Dorpen hotel by the officials of the Dutch federation.
A four-point try
The weather was nice on that Sunday, 13 June, 1982. The Dutch federation, so happy and extremely proud to mark the occasion, had prepared everything, especially since they were celebrating their 50th anniversary. The referee was Belgian, Roel Wijnant. The home team was coached by Jopie Nessels and the captain was the prop Lisa Groenedijk.
By 15:00, kick-off had almost arrived. "The first Marseillaise...," recalls Berodier, immersed in her memories. "We were not immediately aware that we were living a historical moment, but we did hope that there will be other opportunities after that."
"It was giant," smiles Jambon. “It was great. This atmosphere of rugby was phenomenal, especially since at the time there was not much female rugby!"
"Representing France meant that women's rugby would be able to move forward ... It was also a personal reward. We were there, we were not going to back down!," insists Fraysse.
What does Fraysse keep from this meeting? The shape of the Dutch players, all dressed in orange: "They were young, tall, strong and they passed the ball very well," she admits.
The first half acted as an observation round. Many opportunities to open the score were wasted by the French who played in the Dutch 22, and the score remained 0-0 at the break.
The restart was of the same ilk. But, after a lineout, the French pack succeeded in creating a maul. From there came great technique by fly-half Odette Desprats, who served the Fraysse sisters. The ball then went from hand-to-hand to the full-back Berodier, who passed to left-wing Isabelle Decamps who went over for a try – only worth four points at the time. Despite other opportunities on both sides, the score remained 4-0 to France.
"After the match, it was like in a club, we ended up around a small plate of food," smiles Berodier. A lunch ended this incredible adventure before the girls boarded the bus late that evening to return home, proud of their accomplishments.
As Fraysse reminds us, in the time since women's rugby has not diminished. The French Women's Rugby Association, which became the French Women's Rugby Federation in 1981, finally entered the French Rugby Federation (FFR) in 1989. Two years later, the first Rugby World Cup was hosted in Wales. In 1971, France had only 320 female players. There are 23,470 in 2020.