The Black Ferns won’t play any test rugby this year, despite only being a year out from the Rugby World Cup.
The world champions were scheduled to play eight tests – including seven at home – ahead of next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, but Covid-19 has forced those matches to be cancelled.
Among the games announced in March this year were tests against the USA in Dunedin and two O’Reilly Cup clashes against the Wallaroos, with more test announcements promised before the pandemic forced the worldwide suspension of rugby.
New Zealand Rugby, who initially hoped to reschedule at least two tests this year, confirmed that the Black Ferns won’t be playing international games at all in 2020.
“The Wallaroos are unable to make it over,” NZR chief executive Mark Robinson told Newshub.
“We would’ve liked to have got some international competition for the team, obviously. That was something we’ve continued to work through really carefully and were really committed to in the last little while.
“But unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that, so we’ll focus on a domestic type situation … that’s the best we can do for now.”
The news comes after NZR worked hard to secure a full All Blacks test schedule for this year, including two Bledisloe Cup tests to be played in New Zealand in October.
Many in the New Zealand rugby community expressed their disappointment on social media, including Wellington Pride player Alice Soper.
“Ata m?ria [sic] to everyone, except @NZRugby who have done everything possible to ensure the All Blacks play but are happy to leave the Black Ferns to play domestically the year before a World Cup,” Soper wrote on Twitter.
“Ridiculous that we aren’t playing a test the year before a World Cup but okay, if we are playing local Barbarians, when?” Soper added in another tweet, which included a video expressing her frustration with NZR.
“I thought maybe we were going to make it happen, particularly how hard they worked to make the men’s stuff go. But na it’s not happening for us.
“And ok sure, multiple layers as to why. But you know what, when you make an announcement, have a backup ready to go. We want to build momentum and we want to build excitement into a World Cup.”
"We had the men’s World Cup here in 2011 and the whole country got in behind it, and we hope that happens for the women’s World Cup as well."@BlackFerns halfback @kenj0119 spoke with @TomVinicombe about her time representing NZ and Canterbury.https://t.co/5of1s8Viyi
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 9, 2020
Robinson said NZR are making contingency plans for the Black Ferns to ensure they will have preparation before next year’s tournament.
“We are looking at a domestically focused campaign for the Black Ferns at the moment, which will run off the back end of the Farah Palmer Cup … possibly a couple of internal squad matches and then a couple of games against an NZ Barbarians-type team,” Robinson said.
“So we’re really committed to making sure the Black Ferns are absolutely prepared the best they can for next year.”
Robinson has previously said that women’s rugby was at the “forefront” for NZR.
“Women’s rugby continues to be at the forefront of all our planning. We still have lots of work to do during these uncertain times, but preparation for Rugby World Cup 2021 remains a priority and the Farah Palmer Cup is a key part of that,” Robinson said earlier this year.
The 2021 Rugby World Cup is scheduled to kick off on September 18, with matches to be played at Waitakere Stadium, Northland Events Centre and Eden Park.
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