What's up with JJ?

Otago Rugby

Onside Online     03 Sep 2014     Otago Rugby

The story of the Trophy - which is played for in first class women's provincial rugby on a challenge basis - is interwoven with that of Laurence "Laurie" O'Reilly and John Joseph "JJ" Stewart, both of whom were instrumental in establishing and promoting women's rugby in New Zealand in the late 1980s and 1990s.

While Laurie O'Reilly drove the external demand for recognition for the women's game, JJ Stewart was its advocate inside the NZRFU. O'Reilly was the Canterbury Coach who was appointed selection convenor for a national women's team while former All Blacks Coach Stewart (he coached the national side 1973-76) was responsible for women's rugby matters during his four years on the NZRFU Council and advocated a women's rugby subcommittee. Stewart also proposed a motion that the NZRFU start fostering women's rugby and gained the Union's commitment. Both men were instrumental in having women's rugby officially recognised by the national body, seeing it as good for rugby overall.

O'Reilly commissioned a provincial rugby trophy in 1990, with Stewart -  a prime candidate for the naming rights. As well as his advocacy for the women's game, Stewart was also involved in coaching support and player welfare.  O'Reilly himself was to be commemorated for his contribution to women's rugby eight years later, when a trophy for Black Ferns v Australian matches was launched and named for him, following his death from cancer.

Little is known about the Trophy's early movements. At the start of 1995 it is known that Wellington were the holders and defended it at home and away, eventually losing the Trophy to Auckland. The Trophy would then remain in Auckland until late 2013, in one of the longest first class trophyholder tenures anywhere in the world.

When the Women's Provincial Championship was established in 1999, JJ (as the trophy is sometimes known) was put on the line in all home matches - just like the Ranfurly Shield is today. Auckland's dominance in the WPC ensured that it didn't change hands until Otago successfully toppled the 12-time champions last year (although the loss didn't stop the Auckland Storm from going on to claim a 13th title). Otago then lost the Trophy to Canterbury, who are the current holders.

JJ will be on the line throughout the 2014 WPC, adding lustre to an already exciting competition.