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'NZR's ballsed it up from the get-go': Ex-internationals hit out over Black Ferns saga

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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A former Black Ferns star and an All Blacks legend have taken aim at New Zealand Rugby [NZR] over its handling of women’s rugby in light of the Black Ferns coaching saga.

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Women’s rugby in New Zealand has come under scrutiny in recent days after Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore announced on Saturday that he is stepping down from the role, just six months out from the New Zealand-hosted World Cup.

Moore’s resignation comes after NZR last week released its findings from a review of the culture and environment in its national women’s side following a social media post made by Black Ferns hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate late last year.

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After falling to four successive record defeats at the hands of England and France during their end-of-year tour last November, Ngata-Aerangamate revealed she had a “mental breakdown” due to alleged critical comments made by Moore during the tour.

That sparked NZR’s review, which resulted not only in 26 recommendations put forward by the review panel, but also in Moore’s retention as Black Ferns head coach leading into the World Cup.

However, five days later, Moore opted to step down from his position, although he refuted Ngata-Aerengamate’s accusations, claiming they were misleading, out of context, unfair and represented him inaccurately.

All of this has resulted in the spotlight being thrust firmly on the state of the Black Ferns and women’s rugby in New Zealand.

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With less than six months until the World Cup kicks-off, NZR are scrambling to find a replacement for Moore, who would have been supported by ex-All Blacks coaches Sir Graham Henry and Wayne Smith at the tournament.

Henry has joined the Black Ferns as a selector, while Smith is acting as technical coach, and both are being viewed as potential successors to Moore, who guided the Black Ferns to the 2017 World Cup title in Ireland.

Allan Bunting, the Super Rugby Aupiki champion Chiefs Manawa boss and ex-Black Ferns Sevens Olympic gold medal-winning co-coach, has also been tipped by many as a strong candidate to take charge of the Black Ferns.

However, speaking on The Breakdown, former Black Ferns star Kristina Sue suggested that a female coach should join the Black Ferns’ coaching staff as she lambasted NZR’s handling of women’s rugby at a high performance level.

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Sue, a triple-code international who was part of the 2017 World Cup-winning Black Ferns side, criticised NZR for failing to use this year’s inaugural edition of Super Rugby Aupiki as a chance to appoint a female head coach at any one of the four franchises.

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All four teams – the Blues (James Semple), Chiefs Manawa (Bunting), Hurricanes Poua (Wesley Clarke) and Matatu (Blair Baxter) – had male head coaches this season.

Sue said that while there are a host of credible female coaches who could replace Moore at the Black Ferns, she believed they have been hamstrung because NZR “ballsed it up” by not hiring any female head coaches in Super Rugby Aupiki.

“What about a woman? No doubt Allan Bunting has the respect from the players, he’s been effective in that Black Ferns Sevens space, but you’ve got Whitney Hansen, who’s already been in a two-year internship with the Black Ferns,” Sue told The Breakdown.

“You’ve got Victoria Grant, who’s currently had to [revert to] coaching the Rotoiti men’s team because there’s no opportunities for her. You’ve got Anna Richards, you’ve got Mel Bosman.

“There’s a whole handful of females to select, but I think New Zealand Rugby’s ballsed it up from the get-go of Super Rugby Aupiki.

“That would have been a prime opportunity to have a female head coach and have the support of Wesley Clarke, who coached the Hurricanes Poua, Allan Bunting, who coached the Chiefs Manawa team.

“That comp only went for two-and-a-half weeks. Why not put a woman at the head of that?”

Sue attributed the lack of coaching opportunities afforded to Kiwi females to women’s rugby being considered as an “afterthought” by NZR as she labelled the women’s game in New Zealand as “undervalued” and “under-resourced”.

The 35-year-old added that a “strategic plan” needs to be put in place by NZR if it is serious about the investment, development and advancement of women’s rugby in New Zealand.

“One of the recommendations [from the review] is that there are some capability gaps in management due to a large part of historic lack of robust recruitment, training and support,” Sue told The Breakdown.

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“When you talk about [secondary school teams] – I’m a coach of a secondary school [team] at Manukura School – there is no U20s, there is no New Zealand secondary schools [team] for girls, there is no Super [Rugby academy] that they can go into.

“They might start inviting the odd players, but there’s none of that at that ground level to provide those pathways and opportunities.

“If you’re really going to get serious about investing in women in rugby, there needs that investment to actually bring about change.”

Sue was supported by All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan, who suggested that the hasty arrangement of Super Rugby Aupiki – which lasted only three rounds and featured just five matches – was a knee-jerk reaction to the losses against England and France.

“I will repeat, we need pathways. High performance is U16s, U20s. We tried to bring in Super Rugby Aupiki, which is awesome, but it was, ‘Oh s***, what are we going to do? We lost [to England and France]’,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.

Kirwan noted that regardless of who is hired to lead the Black Ferns into this year’s World Cup, there should be a female presence to work alongside the likes of Smith and Henry.

“Look at what the All Blacks have just done. They’ve done their review and they’ve added three consultants, so I think the Black Ferns need to get the two best female coaches, and stick them with Wayne Smith tomorrow on the field,” Kirwan said.

“Wayne will tell them – it won’t be gender-biased – he’ll say, ‘You need to get better here and here, and if you don’t, you’re not good enough, whether you’re male or female’.

“Put the two best females [alongside Smith], put the best person in the role right now, and just get on with it, and do it next week.

“The trouble with NZR sometimes, they procrastinate and it’s not very transparent sometimes, so come out with a plan and we’ll go, ‘Okay, we gotcha’.”

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