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Women's rugby has come so far, but there's still so much further it can go

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

It’s nice to see that the women’s Rugby World Cup finally got there in the end.

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I’m not a fan of being told how to think and what to watch and was, frankly, rather turned off by the early rounds of the tournament.

The more you insist that I have to care about something, the less I will.

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I argued that, rather than demand that people take an interest in the world cup – as much of the New Zealand media appeared to do – you should let the event stand on its own merits.

Let the teams and the players themselves compel us to care because, if the product is as good as you’re making out, our attention will be captured eventually.

The Black Ferns’ semifinal win over France did that. It was compelling viewing, as two willing, high-skilled and evenly-matched teams duked it out to the death.

This was the match the tournament needed and why, regardless of the outcome of the final between New Zealand and England, the event should be viewed as a success.

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People’s appetite for women’s rugby has been whetted now. Rivalries have been established. The demand for the Black Ferns to host France and England in three-test series is now there.

That’s a win for rugby and a win for the players, rather than the braying media and politicians.

Was New Zealand Rugby’s scheduling clash of a couple of Saturdays ago really the “disgrace’’ that a government minister described it as? Or merely just another day in the life of a largely inept organisation?

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I understand why that storyline took hold for a day or two. This world cup had been a procession – rather than a competition – to that point, as results went with the form book.

We’ve seen much the same with the men’s Rugby League World Cup in England, where predictable pool play outcomes hardly had fans at fever pitch.

That’s why last Saturday was so important.

No matter whether it was France or New Zealand who won, we needed hearts to suddenly be in mouths and for the outcome to be uncertain.

The final result said plenty about the development of this Black Ferns team since last year’s disastrous end-of-season tour and it’s given the rest of us a true incentive to now watch the final.

I won’t bemoan an England victory, if that’s what we get. Just as I won’t get carried away if it’s New Zealand who wins.

That’s because, as I argued a couple of weeks back, this isn’t the end for female test rugby. It’s effectively the start and things will only get better and better from here.

The game – both in its playing standard and appeal to the general public – has come so far so quickly, but there’s still so much further it can go.

For so long girls in this country couldn’t really dream of being a Black Fern, because they couldn’t actually see them.

The team might merit an occasional clip on the news or 300 words in the paper, but they were effectively anonymous. Not now.

A generation of future Black Ferns are being inspired as we speak, in numbers that would’ve been unimaginable only two or three years ago.

That is such a positive for rugby in this country.

So good luck England and good luck New Zealand – you are true pioneers whose excellence at this tournament will long be remembered.

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