Whakatane gears up for Women's International Rugby     15 Jun 2014

Whakatane is seen to be a place to relax, to soak in the sun, to enjoy a casual afternoon. On Saturday, the 34,500-strong community will host an international women’s rugby match between New Zealand and Canada.

The city has seen a number of prominent sportsmen and sportswomen rise to the top of their respected sports. Seven Olympic athletes have come from Whakatane, including BMX rider Sarah Walker, sailor JP Tobin and mountainbiker Karen Hanlen.

But it is rugby and women’s rugby in particular that will be the focus for the area come Saturday.

Black Ferns coach Brian Evans was rapt his side was able to play in Whakatane and in other places that wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to see international rugby matches.

“We think it’s fantastic and great to get into the country,” said Evans, who also acknowledged the high level of support.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to come and see some top level footy.”

Evans said his side had been well received in Whakatane, where the team had been helping local schools in the lead-up to their 10th clash against Canada.

Canada coach Francois Ratier echoed Evans’ thoughts and said having the match in rugby-mad towns was beneficial for his team.

“It’s really important because some of our players compete with the Sevens team and they go to big stadiums all around the world.

“Coming back to the roots is important.”

Ratier himself was a former player for Angouleme, now known as SA XV Charente. The coach described his former club as one that featured a lot of workers that dedicated themselves to rugby one day a week. The most important day of the week. Game day.

Being around that type of environment and the atmosphere was something he loved and he expected to see the rugby-mad culture in Whakatane on Saturday.

“When I saw the stadium and the changing the rooms, it was perfect. It’s exactly what we need.”

It isn’t just the players themselves who are excited to run out onto Rugby Park. The locals, too, are lapping up the chance to host an international rugby match for the first time.

Former Black Fern Exia Edwards has become a driving force of women’s rugby in the region and says the game in Whakatane ‘means a lot to the community’.

“We’ve got more girls and women playing than we have had in long time. We expect a good turnout [Saturday].

“The senior clubs have gotten on board and we expect a pretty big walk up crowd too. The schools and clubs are excited - the whole town is excited really.”