Women's rugby is well established with increasing prominence and media coverage but at a time when official sporting activity between men was not permitted, alternative sporting attractions became available attracting a large following. The new dependence upon women in the workforce created a lot of social changes during this time. With women employed and earning money, many turned to the leisure pursuits previously monopolised by their brothers, husbands and fathers, including sport. This can be seen in the more commonly known story of Dick Kerr Ladies Football team, who played their first match on Christmas Day 1917. But the story of the Newport v Cardiff Ladies Rugby match actually predates this more famous exploit by just a few weeks.
On Saturday 15th December 1917, Newport Ladies (above left) and Cardiff Ladies (above right) faced up to each other in a charity rugby match at Cardiff Arms Park. The event raised money for the town battalion fund, supporting troops on the front line. Newport won the game 6-0, which was most likely two unconverted tries to nil in accordance with the points system at the time.
Although the victorious Newport players remain anonymous (research is ongoing to discover their identities), it is known that they represented the local iron mills firm of John Lysaghts Ltd, whilst their opponents Cardiff Ladies turned out for Wm. Hancock Ltd, the local brewery. The Cardiff Ladies’ Fullback, Maria Eley, recalled in later life her experience of playing rugby, and suggested that the match was not a one off:
“We loved it. It was such fun with all of us together on the pitch, but we had to stop when the men came back from the war, which was a shame. Such great fun we had.” Maria Eley has since passed away at the grand old age of 106, making her possibly the oldest rugby player. Little else is known about the Cardiff Ladies team who played in December 1917, but their story is representative of the great social changes that occurred during the First World War, and that when given the opportunity, women were more than willing to play the “man’s game”.
The Saturday 15th December 1917, Newport Ladies Vs Cardiff Ladies Match, is the only known game from which team photos have survived, in which most of the players have yet to be identified.

22 September 1894

The Barry Dock News - March 15 1918

Two teams of Newport Munition Workers play an Exhibition Match attracting 4,000 fans.