World Cup Title Number Five: What Changes for Women’s Rugby in NZ

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New Zealand Black Ferns Team Arrival
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 29: Black Ferns captain Fiao'o Faamausili holds the trophy as the New Zealand Black Ferns arrive at Auckland International Airport on August 29, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand won the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup by defeating England in the Final in Belfast. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
From the Last Word on Rugby department.

After the New Zealand Black Ferns rugby team achieved their fifth World Championship in 20 years, the plaudits and respect is well deserved. They; along with all the competing teams in Ireland, are enjoying a wave of support in the game. And one would hope that Women’s rugby in NZ can replicate that support.

Like any World Champion, the years of effort to get to that point are all worthwhile now – after the 32-41 win over England. With the sight of Gold, it is pure delight. Achieving dreams is a poignant moment in any sports persons career. One to be cherished and kept in the memory long after the days of playing the game are long gone.

It also can heal the trials that it took. Reports of players, like ‘Player of the Final’ Toko Natua, traveling two hours after a full days work to get to training, is common for the team. Now a World Champion, the sacrifice is very much all worthwhile.

“Each of us have our own story and struggles of how we got to this World Cup.”

“And [if NZ Rugby] I guess, to make it a little easier would be awesome” was her reaction, when asked by 1News Sport about her journey, and the lack of rewards that is being spken of now.

Toka Natua of New Zealand Black Ferns is tackled by Lori Josephson of Canada during the Women’s Rugby World Cup Pool A, match between Canada and New Zealand Black Ferns at Billings Park UCB in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

So as the players arrived in Auckland International Airport (see main picture), the adulation and public sharing of good will, was a huge positive. Most of the team and management touched-down today, only two days after the biggest day in many of their lives. And congratulations is well justified.

World Cup Title Number 5: What Changes for Women’s Rugby in NZ

Women’s rugby in NZ (New Zealand) has not always had a high profile, but at this moment, it is trending. That is both analytical, publicly and physically. The numbers are up: participation in many demographics, awareness, enjoyment of the product and as a conversation. The water cooler chat on Monday would have revolved around “another World Cup for the Black Ferns!”

Their level of play is much improved. Male fans can feel the impact – it is no longer a ‘girls type of rugby’. Today, it is played with the same fire and determination, as the men do. [Some would say ‘it always has’].

And in this country, fans know of the women’s team. Most would be recognized in a crowd, with high profiles in the XV’s game, and some in the Sevens game too.

The name ‘Black Ferns’ is highly regarded. They have a success ration that in fact eclipses the All Blacks in World Rugby tournaments. Five titles – 1998/2002/2006/2010/2017. Just an awesome record; in any sport.

So the applause comes not only from New Zealand, but also from our fellow rugby playing nations. A list that is increasing mind you, and the 12 nations gathered in Ireland for the last month is testimony to the games wider reach. New World Cup records were broken, and that is a huge boost.

And, they all know who the Black Ferns are.

Black Ferns International Success Brings Recognition. Now What?

They also know the All Blacks. To a lesser degree, they have heard of the Black Caps [Men’s cricket] and the Silver Ferns [women’s netball]. Both representatives of the national sport, but with nothing like the success of the Black Ferns. Women’s rugby in NZ is performing on the International stage.

Now, what rewards will they gain? If anything, the evidence is that it will be in platitudes and in resources. Hardly any of the team are paid, fulltime professionals though. Some are members of the Sevens program; so Sarah Goss and WRWC2017 try scoring hero Portia Woodman have that professional monetary support. But the Black Ferns are considered amateur by New Zealand Rugby.

Yes, it doesn’t seem fair, when in comparison to men. NZ Rugby chief executive was quick to afford praise, but his organization seems less forthcoming with a professional environment when it comes to contracts. Resources are well above previous years though, with an implemented program that resulted in the team peaking at the right time.

And the structure for the top tier of Women’s Rugby is now world leading. The Farah Palmer Cup competition begins on September 2, with many names from the World Cup flooding back into sides to compete in the 11 team, provincial championship.

The exposure has never been higher. So for a five-time World Champion side, the rewards must sson follow.

Major Exposure, Will That Drive Changes for Women’s Rugby in NZ?

It must do. And if the structures have been invested in, the competition has improved the levels of performance, than any organization would look to naturally reward it’s players. So there is now an expectation on the national body to provide more.

That will certainly be on the agenda when NZR board member Dr Farah Palmer (see below image) walks in Rugby House next time. If any benefits have come from the national body bringing her into the board room, it will be that the 23 players and squad will have a strong voice at the corporate level.

Farah Palmer poses during a portrait session on May 25, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Even if the administration claims that it does not have sponsors-specifically for the Women’s team, the commercial interest will be strong. You could argue that any cash reward would be earned only after a short-term, possibly even to generate a formal budget.

But until women’s rugby players at the elite level are recognized with professional contracts, fans can still see that the players and supporters do this for reasons other than financial. Dr Deb Robinson, team doctor for the Black Ferns pinpointed it, when she said “this is certainly a group that plays for each other.

“They look after each other, and I think that is important and really special.”

More often, in team sports especially, the family you develop on an away trip; like the Black Ferns have taken to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland, bring more than pure rewards. Friendships, memories and knowing you reached your dreams, is more than enough.

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Last Word on Rugby congratulates the Black Ferns, but also implores New Zealand Rugby to take the step toward a fulltime national program. To be innovative, to be world leaders (as the All Blacks have always been) and to outwardly support the team who are Five-Time World Champions.
You simply, can’t do better than they have! Paid, or not.

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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