Celebrating female leaders in rugby

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New Zealand Rugby for Onside Online     12 May 2017     Getty Images

There are women making significant and appreciated contributions to rugby throughout New Zealand at all levels of the game. Females are playing a bigger part in rugby with incredible growth in the number of women and girls playing the game, the Black Ferns Sevens team winning silver at the Rio Olympics and Black Ferns going unbeaten through 2016, and Dr Palmer’s appointment last year to the New Zealand Rugby Board.

However, the limited participation of women in leadership positions at Provincial Union and national level has been noted as a potential barrier to progress for rugby. At New Zealand Rugby’s 2016 Annual General Meeting, Chair Brent Impey called on Members to do more to promote women into governance positions and this remains an important focus area for NZR.

In February 2017, Jane Duncan was appointed to lead the Board of the Buller Rugby Union, New Zealand’s second-smallest Union by playing numbers. Duncan, who moved to Westport in 2010, has been a Director at Stevens Orchard Lawyers since 2012. She was appointed as an Independent Director to the Buller Rugby Union in February 2015.

Whangarei District Council Deputy Mayor, Sharon Morgan was elected as President of the Northland Rugby Union at the Union’s 2017 AGM. In 2006, Morgan was the first woman elected to the board of the Union and she was Secretary of the Northland Vikings Rugby Club for 13 years. She has extensive business and local government experience.

Both Duncan and Morgan are believed to be the first to hold the roles of Chair and President of a Provincial Union. Records of Provincial Union officers are managed by each Union rather than centrally by NZR, but announcement of each as the first has not been contested by any other Union.

Last year’s election of Dr Palmer as Maori Representative on the NZR Board saw her appointed to the role of Chair of the New Zealand Maori Rugby Board. Palmer had served on the Maori Rugby Board since 2007 and has been joined since April 2017 by Merewaakana (Mere) Kingi, who was elected as an independent member at the AGM. Kingi is a chartered accountant with nearly 15 years of corporate and financial services experience and a former Black Fern.

Palmer, Duncan, Morgan and Blair join other women in leadership positions throughout rugby that include Bridget Belsham (Wanganui RFU CEO), Susan Youngman (King Country RFU General Manager), Cushla Tangaere-Manuel (East Coast RFU CEO) and Lisa Kingi, CEO of the Rugby Foundation. CEO of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Kereyn Smith and Media and Business Consultant Julie Christie have also been seconded to New Zealand Rugby Board Committees since 2013.

Do you know a great female leader in rugby? New Zealand Rugby would like to recognise these women and share these stories with a wider audience. Please email

Are you a woman interested in taking on a leadership role in rugby? Please contact your local Club or Provincial Union for more information about recruitment and governance opportunities.