Women's international rugby union has a history going back to the late 19th century but it was not until 1982 that the first international fixture (or "test match") involving women's rugby union took place. The match was organised in connection with the Dutch Rugby Union's 50th anniversary. As part of the celebrations on June 13, 1982 the French national women's team played the Dutch, in Utrecht, Netherlands, with France winning 4–0 in a game that has since been recognised as the first ever women's international rugby union match.
Official recognition of women's internationals was not immediate. Almost all women's rugby was originally organised outside of the control of either national unions or World Rugby (WR). Partly as a result no internationally agreed list of rugby internationals exists. However, even in the men's game, WR does not decide which matches are "full internationals" (or "test matches"), leaving such decisions up to participating unions.
As a result, one country may classify a match as a full international (and award full test caps) while the opposition may not – countries may even award caps for games against an opposition that is not a national team (World XVs, for example).
International rugby initially grew slowly. Sweden joined France and the Netherlands in 1984, followed by Italy in 1985, but it was not until 1987 that the first international took place outside Europe. However, since 2003 the game has expanded rapidly and now over 50 nations have played at least one "test match".
Over 1,000 internationals have now been played. Traditional centres of rugby New Zealand, England and France have been the most successful nations, but they have been joined by a number of "non-traditional" nations who have also been successful, such as the United States and Canada.
Unlike men's rugby, there was historically no official ranking of women's teams — prior to 2016, WR generally referred to the placings in the preceding World Cup. However, Rugby Europe compiles an annual ranking of European teams and rugby statistician Serge Piquet has produced a currently unofficial, but generally accepted, world ranking list. Another list appears on The Roon Ba website.
International women's matches
Definition of an "international":
Individual unions compile their own international records. As a result, the list below will conflict with some of these "official" records (much in the same way as they will conflict with each other) as unions:
- may not include some games in their official records because they fielded a below strength team in a tournament for full international XVs, or
- may include games which are not listed below because they fielded a full strength team in a friendly against an unofficial or "A" team.
For consistency this list has used the following criteria when defining what is or is not an international:
- Tournament games between national representative XVs from tournaments for full international teams, regardless of an individual union's selection policy;
- "Friendly" fixtures which it appears were generally promoted prior to the game as being between full strength national XVs. In case of doubt the opinion of the home union – i.e. the promoter of the game – has carried the most weight.
- Fixtures between official national selections and supra-national teams (such as "World XVs").
World Rugby Rankings (women)
The World Rugby Rankings for women is a ranking system for women's national teams in rugby union, managed by World Rugby, the sport's governing body. The teams of World Rugby's member nations are ranked based on their game results, with the most successful teams being ranked highest. A point system is used, with points being awarded based on the results of World Rugby-recognized international matches. The women's rankings are calculated in the same manner as WR's existing men's rankings, with minor adjustments to reflect historic differences between women's and men's rugby.
- The following table shows the teams in the World Rugby Ranking as they were on 23 March 2020.
|World Rugby Rankings (Women's)|
- *Change from 23 March 2020
- Complete rankings at worldrugby.org
Women's Test Ranking (unofficial)
Before early 2016, there was no official World Rugby ranking list for women's rugby. Several unofficial lists have been produced, with the list developed by Serge Piquet in 2009 having widest circulation following its adoption by women's rugby website ScrumQueens.com in 2013.
The system is similar in many ways to that used by WR for its men's rankings, and includes data from every women's international match since 1982.
Match points are awarded to each country as follows:
1. Match level – generally the mean of combined points the two teams before the match, with a minima.
2. The result – 400 points for a win, 200 for a draw, 100 for a defeat or 0 for a forfeit in an official competition.
3. Match venue – 100 points is shared between the two teams. A team playing at home against an opponent from another continent gets 0 point, but 100 is awarded to their opponents. 25 points goes to the home team if the opponent is from the same continent, and 75 for their opponents. 50 goes to each team if they are playing on neutral ground.
4. Number of scored points and the points difference.
5. World Cup – a bonus of 50 points for games in qualifying rounds, 100 in pool phases of the finals, 150 for play offs and 200 for the final.
Matches against A, B, Emerging, Amateur, Junior, Student, Army, Police or Services teams (and provinces/clubs when these games are part of official competitions) are also taken into account.
After each match a team's new ranking points total will be equal to the sum of 10% of their match points, and 90% of the ranking number before the match. This method evens out occasional surprise results and ensures that the ranking rewards consistency of performance.
Finally, in order that current form is given priority over historic performances, points gained from past matches decrease by 2% per year.
- Top 10 as on 25 November 2018
|Unofficial Women's World Ranking|
- *Change from 13 November 2018
- Complete rankings at worldrugby.org
Differences between men's and women's rankings
Although the ranking is similar in principle to that produced by WR for men's rugby since 2003 and women's rugby since 2016, there are some differences that take into account differences in women's rugby.
The WR system, for both men and women, does not account for the level of the teams — the winner gains some points, and the loser loses them, regardless of the relative levels of the opponents. This means that a lower-tier team will lose ranking points with a loss to a higher-tier team, even if the result is much closer than expected. Given the sometimes wide variation in strength of teams — even in the same competition — this is too simplistic for women's rugby.
The WR ranking also does not account for matches against "special" teams, especially those that are not WR members — but for many of the smaller women's nations, games against teams such as England "A" are more significant, tougher, and often as good a guide to their strength, if not better, than those against some full-strength test teams. As a result, such games are included in this ranking.
Finally, a new team added to WR's rankings is arbitrarily awarded a fixed number of points (currently 30 in the men's game, and 40 in the women's game). before December 2012, a men's team had to play at least 10 matches to be classified. Given the number of tests women's teams play this would be a significant barrier to inclusion.
An alternative ranking is available at the site 22metri and is based on the WR calculation method applied to the games played from January 2010 with teams assigned an arbitrary starting points of 40, 30 and 20 based on tier. The ranking is similar to the one from Scrumqueens, as expected.
Highest team scores
up to and including 24 November 2018
|141||Netherlands v Denmark (141–3) at Toulouse 02/05/2004 FIRA |
|134||New Zealand v Germany (134–6) at Amsterdam 02/05/1998 World Cup |
|121||United States v Germany (121–0) at Melrose 15/04/1994 World Cup |
|New Zealand v Hong Kong (121–0) at Billings Park UCD, Dublin 13/08/2017 World Cup |
|119||Spain v Finland (119–0) at University of A Coruña 30/04/2011 FIRA |
|117||New Zealand v Germany (117–0) at Barcelona 13/05/2002 World Cup |
|113||Netherlands v Denmark (113–0) at Amsterdam 08/05/2003 FIRA |
|111||United States v Sweden (111–0) at Melrose 11/04/1994 World Cup |
|109|| New Zealand v France (109–0) at Edmonton 14/09/1996 Canada Cup |
France A v Finland (109–3) at INEF Bastiaqueiro 04/05/2011 FIRA [---]
|105|| Netherlands v Belgium (105–0) at Amsterdam 08/04/2001 Friendly |
Netherlands v Finland (105–0) at Enköping 03/05/2012 FIRA 
|101||England v South Africa (101–0) at Imber Court 14/05/2005 Friendly |
|100||Netherlands v Belgium (100–0) at Enköping, Sweden 17/05/2009 FIRA |
Note: An unofficial international between a Uganda XV and a Rwanda XV at Kampala on 4 December 2004 resulted in a 183–0 win to the Uganda XV.
Sources of women's international results
The above results have been traced mainly via the following listings of national and tournament results – most being national RFUs. Other results have been traced via numerous news reports.
- Australia at the Wayback Machine (archived 30 September 2007) Complete for 1994–2006, some errors in dates.
- England (1998–)
- FIRA European Championships (2003–)
- France (1982–2004)
- France (1990–)
- Germany (rather incomplete)
- International Rugby Board (2006–, Six Nations and World Cup only)
- Japan (1994–2002)
- Netherlands (2003–)
- Norway (2002–)
- New Zealand (1991–)
- RBS Six Nations (2004–)
- Sweden (1984–2005)
- USA (complete, some errors)
- Wales (1987–, some gaps, some errors)
Women's rugby participation rates
Ratio of registered female rugby players to the total female population.
- Canada Cup
- Caribbean Women's Rugby Championship
- FIRA Women's European Championship
- Scottish Women's Rugby Union
- Women's international rugby union results summary
- Pacific Tri-Nations
- Women's rugby
- Women's Rugby World Cup
- Women's Six Nations Championship
- Women's International Rugby Union Sevens
- Women's international rugby union results summary
- Women's international rugby union (non test matches)
- A try was only worth four points in 1982, the five point try not coming in until 1992.
- "'Definition of an "international" used in this article.'" This article, with its accompanying match list and associated data as well as the statistical summary of each team's relative success – only includes matches that most independent observers appear to treat as "full internationals" (or "test matches"). These may be defined as:
- Tournament games between national representative XVs from tournaments for full international teams;
- "Friendly" fixtures which it appears were generally promoted prior to the game as being between full strength national XVs
- Other fixtures which most independent authorities (as opposed to individual unions) appear to treat as full internationals (such as games involving "World XVs").
- may not include all of these games in their official records (most often because the Union concerned fielded a below strength team in a tournament for full international XVs), or
- may include games which fail to meet the above definitions (most often because they fielded a full strength team in a friendly against an unofficial or "A" team).
- "Statistics: Scoring & Player Numbers Explanation". Scrum.com. Retrieved 17 May 2010.
- Internationals in each calendar year:
- 1982 1
- 1983 1
- 1984 2
- 1985 3
- 1986 5
- 1987 6
- 1988 11
- 1989 5
- 1990 11
- 1991 17 (World Cup year)
- 1992 5
- 1993 12
- 1994 34 (World Cup year)
- 1995 12
- 1996 23
- 1997 32
- 1998 52 (World Cup year)
- 1999 28
- 2000 37
- 2001 46
- 2002 53 (World Cup year)
- 2003 32
- 2004 47
- 2005 44
- 2006 79 (World Cup year)
- 2007 58
- 2008 66
- 2009 54
- "Official rankings introduced for women's 15s game" (Press release). World Rugby. 1 February 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
- "World Rugby Ranking". World Rugby. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
- Women Rugby Ranking - a proposal
- Media related to Women's rugby union at Wikimedia Commons
- Rugbydata includes women's internationals (18 March 2010 to 16 March 2014)
- Entire list of internationals (13 June 1982 to 28 April 2012) in a Google Documents spreadsheet.
- The rise and popularity of women's rugby in Canada, by John A O'Hanley (1998)
- Official women's World Rankings