There is often reason to be critical of New Zealand Rugby and how it runs our national game but the organisation deserves plenty of credit for its promotion of women’s rugby in recent seasons.
After great success by the Black Ferns and Black Ferns Sevens teams on the world stage, New Zealand Rugby began paying the players as semi-professionals, driving deals with SKY Television to show live matches of international matches and the Farah Palmer Cup provincial competition.
There is still plenty of work to be done in closing the gap somewhat with the men’s elite players but fair play to the union – credit for a job well done.
The increase in young women taking up rugby from other sports has multiplied in the last three seasons with the playing numbers in the Bay of Plenty at the front of the national increase.
There is no doubt having high profile Bay of Plenty players such as Les Elder, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Michaela Blyde starring for the Black Ferns teams has helped drive the momentum.
Black Ferns captain Elder plays for Rangataua and the Bay Volcanix. She is one of the role models for young women making such a positive impact on driving numbers into the fifteens and sevens versions of the game.
One man who knows first-hand the impact Elder has made is Rangataua Sports and Bay of Plenty rep coach Paul Poe.
“The conversations we have had with our players is there is nothing but admiration for Les. Obviously for our club and for our players to have the national captain in our team is pretty amazing.
“The players aspire to be like her and take every word she says with great intent and try to apply what she is asking them to do. That is a great relationship that she has with our team.
“She is definitely a leader, not just in terms of playing but in our management group as she is developing us as coaches.
“Sometimes it is challenging when players like Les, Kelly and Sarah Goss (Hirini) come back because you are thinking “what can I teach these girls?”. So I bounce ideas off them and let them come in and run the sessions for us.”
Poe says the Black Ferns Sevens have played a vital role in all the positive changes with women’s rugby in Bay of Plenty.
“Those sevens’ girls do an incredible job representing us on the field but no one gives them an acknowledgment for what they do off the field. They are always willing to give back to the community.
“For example, Kelly Brazier is always coaching and giving back to the game that has provided for her. She is also my assistant coach for Bay under-18 girls’ rugby team.
“The girls just aspire to be like her and she wants to share her knowledge and they want to take it. It is a really good fit and creates a really good learning atmosphere because we don’t have to force them.
“We will have better rugby players out of it.”