Paris (AFP) - World rugby union's governing body, the IRB, has vowed to do "everything" to grow the women's game in the wake of a highly successful World Cup won by England.
The tournament captured the imagination of a French public, who not only tuned in in their millions to watch on television, but came in their thousands to grounds to watch five rounds of matches live.
Such fervour in a country known for particularly fickle fans has been a major boost for the International Rugby Board (IRB) as it looks ahead to the Rio Olympics in 2016 when men and women's rugby sevens will make their debut.
"The fact that so many spectators have come to watch, as well as record television audiences at home, is a testament to the quality of rugby that has been on display," IRB president Bernard Lapasset said after watching England beat Canada 21-9 in Sunday's final.
"The women's game is certainly on the up and we will be doing everything we can at the IRB to make sure that upward trend continues."
Lapasset heaped praise on the final day of competition, with France finishing third after outgunning Ireland 25-18 at Stade Jean Bouin, the western Parisian home of Top 14 club Stade Francais, before England took centre stage.
"What an amazing way to finish an amazing women's Rugby World Cup," the Frenchman said.
"The TV and media coverage, the atmosphere at the matches and the way that this tournament has captured the public's imagination has been remarkable.
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"I send my congratulations to England who played so well, but also to Canada who won so many fans here during this World Cup."
Goalkicking Canada wing Magali Harvey, who scored a memorable 80-metre try in the semi-final victory over France, was named the IRB Women's Player of the Year.
The 24-year-old edged out her captain and Canada number 8 Kelly Russell, Ireland full back Niamh Briggs and France No 8 Safi N'Diaye.
"Her try against France in the semi-final was perhaps the tournament highlight and certainly one of the tries of the year. I was privileged to have been sitting in the stand to watch it live," Lapasset said.
Focus for many players who featured in France will turn swiftly away to the process of qualifying for the rugby sevens at the Rio Games.
That begins with four of the 15 spots on offer (Brazil having already qualified as hosts) at the 2014-15 IRB Sevens World Series, while each of the six regional rugby unions will have an Olympic qualification event from which one team will qualify.
The high-octane abbreviated form of the regular 15-a-side game made its debut on the Olympic programme this week at the Youth Summer Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
"It has been a special day for the global rugby family and the young players are very much aware that they have been making history," Lapasset said of a competition watched by former International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.
"We are proud to be back on the Olympic stage and Nanjing has made us feel very welcome."
Ex-Rugby Canada star Heather Moyse, also a double Winter Olympic bobsleigh gold medallist, added: "This is a great moment for rugby and for these young players.
"Being a part of the Youth Olympics will help take rugby to new audiences, while being in the Olympic environment will be a very positive experience for our future stars."
- Sports & Recreation
- Bernard Lapasset
- rugby sevens