Thursday, 16 March 2017
Women’s rugby on the rise in Taranaki
Taranaki is playing a leading role in a nationwide surge in women’s rugby – both on and off the field.
In 2016 there were 1400 registered female rugby players in Taranaki, an increase of 200 on the previous year, which places the region fourth in New Zealand for female player numbers. Nationally the number of females involved is up by 2150 to 22,000 since 2015.
Taranaki Rugby Football Union women’s rugby development officer Orlaith Curran said much of the rise could be attributed to the success of the New Zealand women’s sevens team at the Rio Olympic Games last year, where they claimed the silver medal.
"The women’s game has had a lot more exposure recently in the media and the girls have seen the game on the TV more, so it is building a profile,” Curran said.
But the Taranaki union is also putting a lot of emphasis on the female game, particularly at secondary school level where, for the first time, a 15-a-side competition was held last year.
“We initially set out to have just a two-team event with a combined North Taranaki schools team playing a combined South Taranaki schools team, but there was enough interest for a Central team as well,” Curran said. “Schools have shown more interest this year so it’s likely there will be a 15-a-side competition with four to six schools taking part.”
And the game continues to grow – a big uptake in women’s sevens in Taranaki last year was built on this year with the first women’s 10s club competition held pre-season and there are plans for the competition to expand next year, Taranaki Rugby boasts a women’s academy for aspiring players, Stratford plays in the Manawatu women’s competition, and there are a variety of age-grade rep teams that give girls a pathway to higher honours.
“Our goal is to give girls the opportunity to play and show them that there are options to continue in the game when they finish school,” Curran said.
Women are also having a big influence off the field at Taranaki Rugby, with Curran one of six females in administrative, commercial, media, managerial and operational roles at the union’s offices.
The 26-year-old Kilkenny native came to Taranaki from Ireland just over 18 months ago as a strength and conditioning intern for the Port Taranaki Bulls squad and has proved to be a star in the women’s rugby development officer role, despite having had no previous rugby experience.
“I did sports science at university, but my background was in Gaelic football and I had never played rugby, so I was a bit nervous about the job,” she said.
But her talent was picked up on quickly and within weeks she was developing Taranaki Rugby’s first women’s rugby strategic plan, which has now been adopted nationally.
“I didn’t know what I was working with in terms of rugby, but I had worked on a strategic plan for my Gaelic football club in Ireland so I had that knowledge to use.”
The goal of the detailed three-year plan is to grow the number of females playing the game from six-year-olds up – developing school, club and rep teams and competitions through the first two years and, in the third year, also improving the quality of play.
The New Zealand Rugby Union got wind of the strategic plan, liked it, and sent it on to be picked up and used by women’s regional development officers around the country.
Curran, who is also the Taranaki women’s sevens team’s manager and trainer, has also been asked to assist at a Black Ferns camp later in the year.
She said she was thrilled young people were now seeing women in influential rugby positions.
“It’s great that when we go to schools for skills and training sessions that the kids are growing up to see both men and women in these roles – it’s good for the game and the students.”
Taranaki Rugby Football Union chief executive Michael Collins said rugby was no longer a male-dominated sport and women were filling important roles throughout the game, as evidenced in Taranaki.
“We’ve got a group of really talented and highly qualified people working at Taranaki Rugby. Our female staff members are part of that and are playing a leading role in shaping the sport in Taranaki,” Collins said.