Growing the game – The Future of Women’s Rugby in NZ

Josh Bamber

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Action from the Canterbury women’s club rugby match between University and Christchurch at Ilam Fields, Christchurch, New Zealand on Saturday, 16 July 2016. Photo: Dave Lintott / lintottphoto.co.nz

While traditional women’s sports stutter, women’s rugby is stepping up and making itself seen.

It’s no secret that New Zealand is lucky to have some truly great sportswomen and this is displayed best in our nation’s favourite sport.

The Black Ferns are five-time World Champions, four of which were won consecutively. The players have also been involved in the Farah Palmer Cup, which is becoming a hard-fought, even contest, with teams beating each other no matter where they sit on the points table. This success, in addition to the struggles faced by other sports in recent years, has seen interest in women’s rugby explode.

This has enabled women’s rugby in New Zealand to gain a foothold in the world of women’s sport. Canterbury is a prime example of this, with the women’s side of the game growing exponentially.

Evidence of this is seen in the introduction of the new Under 16’s grade, two more teams joining the already strong UC Cup 1st XV competition and the creation of Premiership and Championship grades in local club rugby. While this might be the case locally, it begs the question, why isn’t there development happening in higher levels?

Building a base in which the professional and local game can grow is something that New Zealand, Canterbury and other provincial Rugby Unions need to work on.

One way to do this would be to introduce a women’s Super Rugby.

Using the infrastructure that is already in place throughout the five main regions, there is certainly a way in which this competition could be implemented. This concept is something that is already in place in Australia, with a competition equivalent to Super Rugby recently completing its second season.

Called Super W, the competition uses the names and infrastructure of the four Super Rugby teams in Australia, with Rugby Western Australia taking part in place of the former Western Force. Although a small competition, Super W helps to build the women’s game by moving towards professionalisation. Awareness is built around the competition through televising all of the games and using Australian derbies in Super Rugby as doubleheaders.

By using their current Super Rugby structure, New Zealand Rugby could help continue the growth of women’s rugby seen countrywide, especially here in Canterbury. The five franchises of New Zealand are also home to strong women’s competitions, showing there is depth and interest in creating this new pathway.

Growing on the professionalisation of Black Ferns and Sevens players, the pathways created by having a semi-professional level in the women’s game and supplying women the ability to strive towards a career in Rugby can only help to grow the game further.

The creation or inclusion of New Zealand teams in a Women’s Super Rugby competition would provide those Under 16’s running out on Saturdays something to aim for, which can only be positive for the growth of women’s Rugby and sport.