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Welsh rugby enveloped in its latest existential crisis

As Wayne Pivac teeters on the edge of finding new gainful employment after a series of disappointing results, the wider-lens story tells of dysfunction and frustration

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The Black Ferns are the one thing that can save New Zealand Rugby

By Hamish Bidwell
Renee Holmes and Ruby Tui of the Black Ferns pose for a photo with Lucia who received her winning medal during the New Zealand Black Ferns Rugby World Cup 2021 fan reception after beating England to win the Rugby World Cup 2021 on November 13, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Black Ferns are the one thing that can save New Zealand Rugby (NZR) from themselves.

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Our national body and our flagship team – if you can still call the All Blacks that – are utterly disconnected from the rest of us.

The Black Ferns have won the nation’s hearts in spite of their employers.

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I still laugh at NZR not even realising there was a scheduling clash between the Black Ferns and All Blacks a couple of weeks ago. It’s as if the Black Ferns and the women’s Rugby World Cup were such an irrelevance that NZR never noticed the conflict.

The NZR model is to shun all outside noise and opinion. To disregard the hopes and wishes of everyone beyond the inner sanctum.

This is exemplified by the contempt with which the All Blacks often treat people too.

Sure, when there are cameras around and perhaps a trophy to wave, then the players are happy to pose for a selfie or two.

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But you cannot tell me they are the people’s team. They don’t want us on the journey with them, because they believe themselves to be so far above us.

In turn, many of us now struggle to find something good to say about the All Blacks. What bond there was between the team and its fan base appears badly damaged if not broken.

We have put up with it all because – rightly or wrongly – we still seem to derive self-esteem from the All Blacks’ victories. Their legacy and their aura continue to mean something, even if we don’t like this group that much and don’t believe they’re as good as they used to be.

And then an alternative appears.

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A team full of charisma and good humour. A team achieving quite a lot with comparatively little. A team who seems to care about us and want us to enjoy their success with them.

The Black Ferns still don’t benefit from the bells and whistles that come with being an All Black. Yes, they’re making a buck now, even if their annual salary is what an All Black might earn in a month.

But they’re appreciative. They’re not asking for a rest or a sabbatical. In fact they want more rugby and more chances to show their wares and more opportunities to engage with fans.

Interview requests? Bring them on.

This is a group of women looking to grow the game and promote New Zealand and provide inspiration to future generations.

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What’s not to like about that?

I’ve heard that it’s our fault that there aren’t more Ruby Tuis in the men’s game. That we’ve beaten the spirit and the spark out of these poor little blighters.

They all want to be genuine, but we just won’t let them.

I think the female way is the way forward and I hope that NZR will finally notice that.

Just as they never saw that scheduling problem coming, so it is that they hadn’t considered world cup-winning bonuses for the players or the fact that many of us now want to see the team undertake a national tour.

Some of us have been lucky to travel to Auckland and Whangarei to watch the Black Ferns during this tournament, but the majority have had to make do with television.

Well, we want to congratulate them in person now and then we want to see the team given a meaningful test programme that takes in as many centres as possible.

We’ve forever been told there’s no market for women’s rugby and that funding from NZR amounted to a donation, rather than an investment. Maybe, but the crowds at Eden Park and the 1.3 million of us who watched the world cup final on TV would suggest otherwise.

The All Blacks and NZR would benefit greatly from taking a few pages from the Black Ferns’ playbook. Be open, be accessible, be one of the people again.

As much through their personalities as their performances on the paddock, the Black Ferns have shown how quickly a country can fall head over heels for a team.

Let’s hope some broader lessons can be learned from that.

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