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The easiest way to raise the profile of women's rugby

By Jamie Wall
The Black Ferns celebrate their World Cup win

The Black Ferns won the World Cup yesterday, beating England 42-31 in a highly entertaining advertisement for women’s rugby. Not only did it spark celebrations of their unprecedented fifth RWC win, it also brought up the age old arguments of funding and support for minor sports in this country.

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Minor sports being everything that isn’t men’s rugby, America’s Cup yachting, cricket and, God knows why, the Warriors.

A lot was made in the wash up about the part-time, more or less amateur status of the players and why they aren’t paid more. There is one quick fix for the Black Ferns though, one that should have been taken care of years ago.

The thing is, they shouldn’t be called the Black Ferns. They should be the All Blacks.

In 2010, NZ Rugby made a decision to align the senior representative teams under the All Blacks name. All of a sudden we had the Maori All Blacks and All Blacks Seven to go along with the national side. It didn’t go down too well in some quarters, and the union didn’t help itself by slashing the funding and effort required for the abbreviated version of the game.

The Maori All Blacks have a very condensed calendar these days and their lack of preparation time was clearly evident in June when they were thumped by the British & Irish Lions. Meanwhile the less said about the All Black Sevens the better, given that they bombed out of the Rio Olympics and failed to win a tournament all of last season.

There was no reason given for why the Black Ferns weren’t given the same treatment. It was even less logical to not apply a new name to the women’s sevens team, who have been far more successful than their male counterparts, who went on simply being called the ‘New Zealand Women’s Sevens Team’.

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The fact is, the Black Ferns are the closest thing to the All Blacks there is. They are the only other open, senior New Zealand XV-a-side national team. Not to mention their excellent test record and World Cup success.

So why not put them together, for brand alignment at the very least?

Now, first and foremost, this is a pragmatic solution to an existing problem. The women’s programme needs money and this is an easy way to get it. They can easily slide in beside the men and start sharing their endorsement deals, match fixtures and merchandise sales – because they’ll play in identical jerseys.

Put them in ads alongside the men – because, you know, marketing to women is probably a good idea anyway. It’s highly unlikely anyone will get offended by seeing Portia Woodman taking a swig of Gatorade with Sonny Bill Williams after their clearly staged training session/game.

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But don’t just call them the All Blacks, make them All Blacks. Add all women who have represented our country into the official list – admittedly the one that no one paid any attention to until the 1000th All Black made his debut.

Put their records in alongside the men. Boast about how the All Blacks have won eight World Cups, an Olympic medal, and how a former All Black was the driving force to legalise same-sex marriage.

Right now the media already is starting to put the women on the same par with the men, anyway. One of the more frequent soundbites of the last fortnight was how superstar winger Portia Woodman is on track with prolific All Black try-scorer Joe Rokocoko’s strike rate after 20 tests.

Just make it official. If nothing else it’ll mean that Woodman will have the World Cup record for tries in a match by an All Black – currently held by Marc Ellis, of all people.

And guess what? It’s been done before, and was highly successful – just the other way round. The name ‘Black Sticks’ used to refer to just the women’s hockey team, till Hockey NZ aligned the name for both sides. While it’s obvious the women have a clearly higher profile, a Google search brings up news and images of both sides.

I know this will cause some consternation among fans of the Black Ferns’ name, and yes, I do understand that there is a lot of mana that has been built into it by some seriously committed and strong women. But things change, and often for the better. I watched Athletic Park, home of some of the most iconic moments in All Black history, get torn to the ground and replaced with Westpac Stadium. The British & Irish Lions played Super Rugby teams rather than provincial unions this year and it worked perfectly. Rucking is long gone and no one under the age of 58 misses it.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Black Ferns name isn’t going to bring the money that the All Blacks can. Right now they have AIG emblazoned on their chest and that’s where the bulk of their operating budget comes from, but by making them a full rather than junior partner in the All Black brand will mean exposure to a whole new world of commercial opportunities.

But let’s just put the money issue aside. Given the standing the All Blacks have in our society, this would be a huge gesture towards the equal standing of women in employment – because it’s 2017, and it’s kind of a big deal.

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Abe 1 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

Not a fan of your picks. McReight is good at club level but he is too small for international level and has consistently disappointed there. Better to go for larger guys. Kemeney, Valentini, Hooper, Leota, Samu, Swinton, etc. Aalatoa and Nonga are woeful scrummagers and don’t offer much around the field. Wallabies will not win if the scrum falls to pieces. The fact that Faamissli hasn’t been developed is a tragedy. Need a scrum that doesn’t give away penalties. So looks like a Talakai maybe instead. Best scrummagers need to be selected. McDermott runs the ball too much and doesn’t fit into a structured attack like Schmidts. Gets isolated too often. Ok off the bench late but not for 60 mins. Goal kicking has to be one of the top 3 points for a 10 so that does in Gordon and O’Connor. Be better off going for lynagh on that front. Donaldson and Noah seem to be doing best of the established names. QC a better mentor type guy than OConnor as well if he’s playing. Daugunu has been the most consistent 13 and breaks the line a lot so must be in the squad. Joost has also been good. Richie Arnold playing well for Toulouse and is a preeminent lineout jumper so needs to be in. Latu also playing well for La Rochelle and is better scrummager than the Aussie choices so should be in. The big guy at the Tahs Amataroso I think it is needs to be developed as well. Otherwise the team will be too small. Hodge is a better choice at fullback than Wright. Latter makes too many mistakes. Not sure if Hodge available.

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Turlough 6 hours ago
Four Leinster talking points after latest Champions Cup final loss

First of all: hats off to Toulouse an outstanding performance. Duponts kicking was phenomenal. Twice he challenged Keenan with amazing clearances from his 22 in extra time. Result was territory deep in Leinster half in the early part of extra time which lead to 2 penalties and the game. Remember also his two 50:22s? Now to Willis/Dupont. ANY slight isolation by a Leinster player resulted in a turnover penalty. How many turnovers in the Toulouse 22? Leinster’s defense was immense, they had opportunities in attack but they honestly looked like they had not spent enough time passing the ball in the training in the weeks preceding the final. Game management was poor. Toulouse’s scrum had crumbled. At 15-15 Leinster had a scrum advantage in a position that would be kickable for a scrum penalty. Leinster played on and missed a long range drop goal. You MUST take the scrum surely? Win penalty and its a shot at goal to win with time up. No penalty and you can attack and drop goal whatever. The distance from sideline penalties from Byrne was shocking. If you are kicking the line you must get close to that 5 metre line. How many times were Leinster forced to maul from 10-15 metres? Toulouse KNEW Leinster was going to kick and maul and clearly spent considerable training time neutralizing thuis threat. The maul was starting too far out, Toulouse were able to stop the heart of the drive. You must change tack and start kicking for goals. That said it always felt like Toulouse were the potent team on the day with Leinster under pressure and chasing. Even with their backline completely disrupted, Toulouse found a way. 9 Wins in their last 9 finals. Leinster will be there next year. But so will Toulouse/Northhampton etc. A great era of club rugby.

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