Loading

Where to, for women's rugby? By Mitch Redman

Kendra Cocksedge has achieved almost everything rugby union has to offer.

Two Rugby World Cup titles, multiple championships with Canterbury and was the first female recipient of the Kelvin R Tremain Player of the Year trophy. There are plenty more accolades to mention.

Cocksedge started playing rugby as a four-year-old, running around in the green and black hoops of Okato, under the watchful eye of Mt Taranaki.

“I dreamt I was going to play rugby for my country, and assumed I was probably going to be an All Black until I realised that probably wasn't going to happen" she laughed.

She started her professional career wearing hand me down jerseys. Now she earns a living from the game.

Rugby for women in Aotearoa has progressed significantly in recent years.

PARTICIPATION.

While male registrations dwindle, the number of female players around the country continues to rise.

The New Zealand Rugby Union has seen exponential growth in female registration’s of approximately 10 per cent throughout the past five years.

In 2015, New Zealand Rugby released a strategy specifically focused on the women’s game. The document outlined five key plans:

  1. Grow participation.
  2. Black Ferns winning on the world stage.
  3. Grow leadership for women in rugby.
  4. Lift the profile of the game.
  5. Plan to become commercialised/financially viable in the future.

Part of the strategy was to create roles encouraging more girls to become involved with the game. On top of being a Black Fern, Kendra Cocksedge works as a Women’s Development Manager for the South Island.

“To be in a role where I can work to provide opportunities for young girls and women to play rugby, for someone who’s played with the boys a lot and absolutely adores rugby, it frames my life.” Cocksedge shared.

Having a team dedicated to creating better opportunities, purely for women’s rugby is credited for the growth.

"We've still got a long way to go, but we're certainly starting to change mindsets around the game for all," said Cate Sexton, head of women's rugby at the New Zealand Rugby Union.

The Calendar.

The Black Ferns had eight fixtures planned this year, seven of which were to be played at home.

The schedule was momentous. It would have been the busiest season the Black Ferns had ever been a part of. Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced them to be cancelled.

For players, it highlights how invested New Zealand Rugby is to create opportunities for the fifteens side.

“Oh my gosh, I was so excited about it come January. I’m absolutely gutted that it hasn’t happened” Cocksedge said.

An on-going challenge for New Zealand Rugby is the global uncertainty surrounding the women’s test window. Each year, the men have set timeframes for their international fixtures to take place. World Rugby has no schedule in place for the women’s game.

Cate Sexton hopes the governing body will announce a global calendar soon, to cover the 2022 season and beyond. This would give international union’s the opportunity to plan better and give more structure to the administrative side of the game.

New Zealand Rugby currently operate their own test windows for the Black Ferns.

The Farah Palmer Cup is the perfect preparation for the end of year tour according to the organisation.

However, change is needed in the build-up for the mid mid-year fixtures Sexton shared.

“The girls come out of club rugby and straight into internationals. Our desire is to win on the world stage, and that’s not suitable” Sexton said.

METRONEWS can reveal New Zealand Rugby has planned for an elite women’s competition to take place in 2021. The tournament will feature 120 of the country’s best players, who will be split into four different teams. Games will be played across five weeks, including a finals weekend.

However, there is uncertainty on whether the competition will go ahead in 2021.

Rugby Players Association CEO Rob Nicol believes getting international teams into the country to face the Black Ferns is the priority, ahead of the local competition.

Next year, New Zealand will host the Women's Rugby World Cup, which will begin in September.

From 2022 onwards, the programme is aimed at making the transition easier between the Farah Palmer Cup, and international Black Ferns fixtures.

“We talk a lot about club footy, and the Farah Palmer Cup is a really big jump. Then Farah Palmer Cup to Black Ferns is another” Cocksedge shared.

Full-Time Athlete, Full-Time Career?

Women’s fifteens continues to be an “emerging professionalism” according to Rob Nicol.

Despite men getting paid to compete in the Mitre 10 Cup provincial competition, their female opposites are playing the game simply for the love of it.

“For us, it’s just about making a rep team and getting the opportunity to wear your provincial colours” Cocksedge shared.

This is something New Zealand Rugby, and players would like to see changed in the future.

The Black Ferns are contracted to New Zealand Rugby but are only considered as 'semi-professionals', a label Rob Nicol disagreed strongly with.

“It’s not like they’re working part-time. They’re working full on with their lives, more than those focusing full-time on rugby, because they’re managing two careers.”

Some of the players have jobs as teachers, lawyers, police officers and accountants.

The New Zealand Rugby board recently invested $1.2 million dollars back into provincial unions, to provide a high-performance environment for all Farah Palmer Cup players.

Nicol labelled the move as a “game-changer” giving amateur players a taste of a more professional environment.

Jilly Collins is head of women’s rugby for Rugby Australia organisation. Last year, there were 60,000 registered female players across the country.

Being at a similar stage of growth, Collins acknowledged New Zealand Rugby’s progress.

“One thing that is a definite strength over there is the Farah Palmer Cup. We get access to those games, and you can just see the quality, and coverage, and profile improve each year.”

Like the Black Ferns, the Wallaroos are paid match and assembly fees by Rugby Australia. Women playing in Australia's premier inter-state competition the 'Super W' are unpaid, the same situation as the Farah Palmer Cup.

Collins said both New Zealand and Australia needed to address payment with a "stepping stone" approach, to ensure the longevity of the female game.

"We don't want to create something that is unsustainable and we have to back-track on. We want to make sure it is sustainable for the long term and it's right for the players and everyone is supportive of it" Collins shared.

The Future.

Cate Sexton hopes in the next five to ten years, New Zealand Rugby will start to see financial gain from the investment they have made into the game.

A global test schedule would mean more fixtures can take place, an essential step in growing the high-performance side of the game.

Sexton also shared the importance of the women’s game steering its own path, rather than replicating what the men already have.

“New Zealand Rugby are significantly more advanced than any country in the world, in terms of the work they’re keen to do in the women’s space” Nicol stated.

With New Zealand hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup next year, there is hope the female game will continue to improve, for many years to come.

Article by Mitch Redman

Thanks to Cate Sexton, Rob Nicol, Kendra Cocksedge and Jilly Collins.

Image Credits: Mitch Redman

Credits:

Mitch Redman