A version of this story was first published in the Blues v Waratahs match programme. Pictured is a girls’ team from Southern Cross Campus, supplied by Southern Cross.
As women’s rugby gains international prominence with the inclusion of Sevens at the Olympic Games, and our New Zealand womens’ silver medal in Rio, the profile of the sport is going from strength to strength here on home soil.
In 2012, there was a total 15,182 women between 5 years and senior levels who were involved in the game. By 2015, that number had increased 30% to 19,792.
Cate Sexton, the Head of Women’s Rugby Development at NZ Rugby, is leading a team of five development officers who are in communities around the country, working to create sustainable rugby programmes.
“Girls and women want to play rugby and we need to give them opportunities to do so,” she said. “The key for us is to think outside traditional ways of delivering the game.”
At an elite level, there’s been the inclusion of Sevens at Rio, as well as the dominance of the Black Ferns, New Zealand’s Women’s rugby team.
The Black Ferns, coached by 2016 Blues assistant coach Glenn Moore, has taken on the mantle of one of New Zealand’s most successful sports teams. They won the Women’s Rugby Super Series in 2015 and took out the Women’s Rugby World Cup title in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.
New Zealand Rugby is starting to tap in to the younger generation by introducing stronger development programmes, starting with an Under-15 grade to help schoolgirls transition in to the 1st XV.
In early July, the Northern Region hosted New Zealand’s first Under-15 tournament for schoolgirls, which saw six representative teams from as far south as Taranaki competing for the tournament title.
And of course there’s the Farah Palmer Cup, sponsored by Mitre 10, which provides nine provinces with a women’s rugby competition. The Auckland Storm has dominated the competition, winning every year since 2010.
In recognition of the development of women’s rugby in New Zealand, the Blues hosted Otahuhu College vs Southern Cross Campus before our final regular-season game of 2016. Southern Cross won the game against Otahuhu, 17-10. You can read the match report here.
The game was a nod to the young women who have been earning national recognition in the sport. Southern Cross made the 2014 and 2015 semi-finals at the 1st XV Nationals, they’ve had a player make the Storm and a number of representatives in the Thunder.
Head coach and school PE teacher Rod Ratu has been coaching for more than 20 years, both boys, girls and men, and says that in his experience, developing a team culture has been easier with girls over boys.
“The girls tend to apply them- selves better, once you get them all on board with the same vision and purpose, then they’re away,” he said. “The potential is really with the girls, because they’re untapped.”
Ratu said that his 1st XV now boasts a core group of Year 11 girls who’ve been playing rugby since Year 9 and are leading the team, both on and off the field.
He also points to the open training sessions that the Storm and Thunder offer as a key driver to women’s club rugby.
“If we get rid of the barriers between top level and schoolgirl rugby, the sport will grow,” he said. “It’s a demanding game, but the girls are gaining strength from having to do all the hard work and support each other through it all.”