Spotlight on Women’s rugby

Getty Images     08 Mar 2017     Getty Images

It will be a bumper year for the Black Ferns with a packed June calendar followed by the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August. After an unbeaten 2016 season, the Black Ferns host England, Canada and Australia in an exciting June series. First up they take on Canada in Wellington on June 9 in a double-header with the Hurricanes v Chiefs. A few days later the team plays in the South Island for the first time since 1997 when they face Australia at Rugby Park on June 13. The June series is capped off with a clash against reigning Women’s Rugby World Cup champions England in a doubleheader with the Lions v Maori All Blacks clash on June 17. 


The June series will provide the perfect preparation for August’s Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland. After winning four consecutive Women's Rugby World Cup titles in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010, the Black Ferns will be eager to reclaim the crown won by England in 2014. The Black Ferns have been drawn in Pool A alongside 2014 finalists Canada, first-time qualifiers Hong Kong and Wales. If the Glen Moore-coached side can qualify top in Pool A then they will go straight into the semifinals. 

After winning a historic Silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Black Ferns Sevens have made a stunning to start to the 2016/17 Women’s Sevens World Series. The Alan Bunting-coached side currently tops the series standings after tournament victories in Dubai and Las Vegas and a third-place finish in Sydney. 21-year-old speedster Michaela Blyde has been particularly impressive this season in racking up 24 tries across the opening three tournaments to lead the try-scoring charts. Next up for the Black Ferns Sevens is the Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan on 22-23 April. If they can pick up another victory in Japan then the chasing pack will find it hard to prevent the Black Ferns Sevens from claiming the overall title.
Counties Manukau Heat stunned the competition in 2016 to win the Farah Palmer Cup (formerly the Women’s Provincial Championship) for the first time. It was going to take a special effort to dethrone eight-time champions Auckland Storm and Counties Manukau were up to the task by going unbeaten throughout the season before storming to a 41-22 victory over Auckland in the final. This season is expected to be even bigger with all nine teams confirmed to return and the potential for new teams still to be added. Due to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August, the Farah Palmer Cup is scheduled to begin at the later date of September 2 this year. 

The Black Ferns have been recognised in the New Zealand Rugby Almanac player of the year categories for the first time in 2017. Black Ferns captain Fiao’o Fa’amausili has been named as one of the five players of the year alongside Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Ryan Crotty and Wyatt Crockett. Fa’amausili led the Black Ferns to an unbeaten Test season and was the top try scorer in the Farah Palmer Cup with 10 tries in eight matches. Barnstorming prop Aotearoa Mata’u was also recognised as one of the five promising players of the year alongside Quinten Strange, George Bridge, Jaye Thompson-Te Muunu and Jordie Barrett. Mata’u was the youngest player in the Black Ferns squad in 2016 and made a big impact with her powerful scrummaging and explosive ball-running.

The women’s game is on the increase in New Zealand. 2016 saw a 12 percent rise in the number of girls aged 13 and under playing rugby union (now over 15,000). The number of women playing overall increased by 2,145 in 2016 to a total of 21,937. CLICK HERE for information on how to play rugby or how to get involved as a referee or volunteer.

Women’s rugby in New Zealand can be traced all the way back to 1891. Women’s rugby pioneer Nita Webbe assembled thirty female players in 1891 to train and prepare for exhibition matches.