Over the last five weeks, the best women’s rugby players in New Zealand have been out in force. Representing there provincial unions, the Farah Palmer Cup displays Women’s Rugby at it’s best.
Last Word On Rugby is determined to shine a light on the all sides of the game, so please enjoy a wrap of the latest action from the domestic rugby desk.
Farah Palmer Cup
The New Zealand (NZ) Women’s Provincial Championship consists of the top nine teams. Named in honour of former New Zealand Black Ferns captain Dr Farah Palmer (above) the Cup is in it’s first season of competition. With seven exciting rounds played, this weekend found sides competing in Week Six.
Across the nation, four matches saw the competition leaders continue to show their class; Counties-Manukau and Auckland, as well as two fair contests. This reporter was on-hand to witness the Harbour Hibiscus v Manawatu Cyclones game, and it went ‘right to the wire’.
Results: Counties-Manukau 37 Wellington 5 | Auckland 62 Otago 0 | Canterbury 27 Waikato 26 | Harbour 24 Manawatu 29
Manawatu Cyclones outlast passionate Harbour Hibiscus Side
With a midday kick-off, perfect conditions saw the women run out in brilliant sunshine. It allowed for good handling and the Manawatu side used the ball smartest. They opened a good lead early, scoring three tries in the first half.
A stunned Harbour side were told to ‘wake up’ and gladly they did. Scoring three good tries, they had the Cyclones under pressure until the 70th minute. Holding possession, the Cyclones pressured the line and in a ruck, the ball bobbled free to be touched down. Too close to call, the match TMO needed to review the footage–a try was awarded. Contentious, the verbal spray from the partisan crowd showed their frustration.
Holding a slender lead, the ball continued to be used and to each sides credit, they pushed hard. Harbour had a chance, but as happened often, the ball was lost and minutes after full-time, Manawatu kicked the ball into touch.
Harbour 24 Manawatu 29
A tough match, it proved that the Cyclones deserve to be in the top four of the competition. In this match they made the best start, withstood a barrage from the home side and held on to a narrow gap to avoid any slip-up.
Standings: Counties-Man 25; Auckland 25 | Canterbury 20 | Manawatu 18 | Wellington 15 | Waikato 11 | Harbour 6 | Otago 1 | Bay of Plenty 0
Head and shoulders above the rest
Two sides are head-and-shoulders above the others, with Counties-Manukau and Auckland building a big lead. Even on 25 points (maximum points after five matches each). They are followed by Canterbury and Manawatu (18) sitting above Wellington due to superior bonus point collection. Scoring four tries is many sides primary focus, as much as a clear victory.
The close nature at the top means that their head-to-head clash between the Cup leaders on Saturday will likely determine the top seed. Expect a full house at Massey Park, Papakura when Counties host Auckland women next weekend.
Mitre 10 Cup curtain-raiser a benefit
Two matches this weekend were curtain raisers for the Mitre 10 Cup competition. On Friday night, Counties-Manukau hosted Wellington, in a match that reflected the identical sides in the main feature of the night.
It was mirrored on Saturday, where the Mitre 10 Cup fans had the added enjoyment of a Farah Palmer Cup to absorb them, while enjoying the sunshine. On both occasions this weekend, the benefits of playing with the full technical support of Sky Sport coverage allowed for additional support for the referee.
In the regular matches, the women are usually the main draw of matches played just after midday. This can see a good crowd show-up to enjoy the match. As the women’s game in New Zealand is going through a growth stage, the quality is high and young girls watching now have ideal mentors to follow.
Sevens Sisters now playing XV’s rugby
Since returning from the Rio Olympics, members of the New Zealand Women’s Sevens team have re-joined their provincial sides. Captain Sarah Goss and Tyla Nathan-Wong were several high profile names running out this weekend.
The ‘Sevens Sisters’ had completed a whirlwind tour of assorted cities across the country last week. A way to thank supporters in person, the team proudly showing off their prize. Winning the silver medal in the first-ever Olympic games tournament, the women might still carry their medals around but a few have switched back into 15-a-side rugby.
Farah Palmer Cup is a terrific environment for all nine teams to show their talents, and will only get better. Auckland are the perennial champions, but if next weekends clash goes the way of the Counties women, it will set-up a fantastic finals series for 2016.
“Main photo credit”