Thirty years on and the passion for rugby hasn’t waned for a group of standard bearers for women’s rugby. The “Crusadettes”, a University of Canterbury team that broke new ground in 1988 when they toured the United States and Europe, are reuniting in 2018 at the Golden Oldies Rugby Festival in Christchurch as part of their 30 year reunion and to celebrate in honour of Laurie O’Reilly, the team’s coach who passed away nearly 10 years ago.
A 1989 The Press article described the “Crusadettes” as being “effective in establishing the credibility of women’s rugby, both nationally and internationally” and their successful 17 from 21 win record and staggering 520 points with only 67 conceded on tour was a “springboard for the development of women’s rugby in New Zealand”.
Members of the groundbreaking “Crusadettes” went on to achieve higher honours in rugby and a number of other sports. 10 members of the touring team played in the first New Zealand women’s rugby team at the 1991 Women’s World Cup in Wales. Anna Richards, currently head coach of the Hong Kong Women’s 7s team, played rugby for New Zealand from 1990 to 2010 and was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2014. Julie Patterson was Canterbury Rugby 2016 Volunteer of the Year and as the current Vice-President of Canterbury Rugby Union is the first female official at the CRFU in its 137 year history. Natasha Wong is the current manager of the Canterbury women’s rugby team and Helen Littleworth, previously a New Zealand hockey representative, has had a highly successful career as a high performance sports physio. Nicky Ewins (Inwood) moved in to rugby refereeing and was one of seven women referees appointed for the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup in England, while Helen Mahon-Stroud had successful stints as coach of the Canterbury Tactix netball team and manager of the White Ferns.
The “Crusadettes” plan too play in the newly introduced women’s only competition at the Golden Oldies Rugby Festival 2018 and urge any over 30 year old rugby playing women to “get themselves to Christchurch for a week of Fun, Friendship and Fraternity, along with the chance to play wonderful rugby against fellow women’s teams from around the world.”