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Rugby needs to be the winner at this World Cup, not necessarily New Zealand

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

To all intents and purposes this is the first female Rugby World Cup.


Yes, I know this tournament has been staged since 1991, but I’d argue this is the first time it’s been given this much prominence.

Are we being force fed it a little? Are we being told that, like eating our greens, it’s good for us and we must like it? Probably.

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As much as a celebration of rugby, this 2021 Rugby World Cup feels like a political rally.

Points scoring is far from restricted to the playing field, with few media outlets missing the opportunity to tell us how tremendous everything is.

Let’s let the tournament breathe first. Let’s get a few more games under our belts, let’s get to the knockout rounds and then let’s evaluate the footy.

Sport needs context and this event doesn’t have any yet. That’s why this tournament is so important.


One of the better rugby series I’ve seen was the All Blacks against the Springboks in 1996.

As a standalone spectacle, it was outstanding. But what makes it linger in the memory is the context.

New Zealand had never won a series in South Africa and that lent a critical, intangible element to the action.

Many fans don’t have a relationship with the women’s Rugby World Cup. For some, this will be their first exposure to it.


It’s not unlike 1987 in that sense.

That men’s world cup was something of a novelty. There were teams and players we hadn’t seen before. There was pressure on players, but not of an historical nature.

That context was created in 1987 and has elevated every iteration of that tournament since.

I suspect many New Zealanders are following this women’s world cup in piecemeal fashion.

Not all of us subscribe to the streaming service that is televising the tournament and there’s plenty of us who don’t live anywhere near Auckland and Whangarei.

That doesn’t help sell the product, I’m afraid.

The 1987 Rugby World Cup worked because matches were played across the length and breadth of the country. Games were broadcast free-to-air and, wherever we lived, we were all able to engage with the teams and the tournament.

I’m not wed to this idea, either, that the Black Ferns need to win this world cup. In fact, it may help build bigger rivalries and more future interest, if they don’t.

Rugby needs to be the winner here, not necessarily New Zealand.

I’m hugely impressed by England, for instance, and look forward to this event becoming the springboard for annual series between themselves and the Black Ferns.

I’ve had my fill of watching the Wallaroos and want New Zealand Rugby to do more to diversify the Black Ferns’ schedule.

That’s what this tournament can do. It can create the public demand for England and France and Canada to tour these shores. It can make household names and heroines of players from multiple teams.

But let’s let the rugby itself do that. Let’s not tell New Zealanders they must watch and they must care.

That turns people off and it expresses a lack of confidence in the product to win hearts and minds.

The future of sport is female and I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds.


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