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It's time to congratulate New Zealand Rugby for once

By Hamish Bidwell

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It’s time to congratulate New Zealand Rugby for once.

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Lord knows our governing can make the administration of the game look hard.

If there’s a wrong way of doing something, they’ll invariably find it. Often as a result of trying so hard to be seen to be doing the right thing.

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They’ve done well with Super Rugby Aupiki, though.

Granted, it’s a modest start. Four teams, a bit of round-robin and then some playoffs isn’t exactly an all-singing, all-dancing franchise competition, but it’s a start.

Too often women’s rugby gets forgotten.

It’s two years, after all, since the Black Ferns 15 a-side team played a Test match, while the Black Ferns Sevens side have been inactive outside of their gold medal-winning Olympic campaign.

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The England netball team, for instance, have met the Silver Ferns here in each of the last two years, while the Women’s Cricket World Cup is about to be staged in New Zealand.

Much as New Zealand Rugby (NZR) seek to cloak themselves in the achievements of our female players – or leverage off them when questions are asked about inclusivity and diversity – they haven’t done them the courtesy of actually organising them any games.

Super Rugby Aupiki is a welcome change, then.

Ignorance is bliss when it comes to sports fans. If they don’t know you exist – or aren’t sure if you’re any good – then it’s hard for them to suddenly support you.

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Women’s rugby needs a proper shop window. We’ve seen the rapport that our female sevens stars, for instance, have built with the public during Commonwealth and Olympic Games campaigns, but then they’ve hardly played a game back home.

We all understand that the World Sevens circuit has largely ground to a halt but, if female cricket teams can tour here, surely NZR can rustle up a couple of opponents for the Black Ferns.

But at least we’re about to get franchise 15 a-side rugby and the players will be paid.

This is an issue of respect. When you don’t schedule matches for people – who dedicate themselves to representing this country – or you don’t pay them the courtesy of a few bob for their efforts, then you are disrespecting them.

By scheduling a tournament for the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes and newly-named Matatu, you are letting everyone know that female players matter. That they’re not an afterthought or token part of the game, but important in their own right.

Next year will be a start but, along with trying to expand the competition, NZR’s challenge is to find some female coaches.

That’s not a knock on the men who’ve been named as head coaches. Allan Bunting from the Chiefs, for instance, has already made a phenomenal contribution to female rugby in this country.

He’s beloved by his former Black Ferns Sevens players and has proven time and again that he knows how to treat his athletes.

It’s just that, rightly or wrongly, forever having women coached by men suggests that blokes know best.

That’s not a situation that’s unique to rugby or New Zealand. Codes and clubs and franchises are overwhelmingly run by men and that probably needs to change.

After all, we regularly see reports and inquiries into sports or teams when stories surface about various forms of abuse. Sadly, the common denominators are often men who’ve been placed in positions of authority over women.

That’s largely a different discussion for a different day but, in the same way that fixtures and a fair day’s pay show respect for female players so – in time – would female coaches too.

But at least we’re part way there. At least we’re about to get franchise women’s rugby and a better showcase for our elite players than the Farah Palmer Cup.

These women deserve that kind of platform and deserve that kind of respect and you’d have to say NZR deserve some credit for putting it all together too.

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It's time to congratulate New Zealand Rugby for once

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