From afar: Losses warning sign for women's rugby

While couch potatoes and armchair critics endlessly debate the reasons why the All Blacks lost to England, the outcome of the curtain-closer between the Black Ferns and the England women's team hardly caused a ripple.

In case you missed it, the Black Ferns were beaten 32-23, capping off a terrible day for New Zealand's two premier 15-a-side teams.

What is more concerning is that the Black Ferns lost all three tests against England on this tour, on top of the two losses and one draw against England they managed in 2011.

Never before has the team been on such a losing streak.

Some are suggesting the Black Ferns' losses are due to not enough international rugby exposure, a loss of players to the sevens team and a lack of investment from the NZRU in the 15-a-side game.

There is a real chance the Black Ferns will be overshadowed by the better performing New Zealand women's sevens team, which beat Australia, England and then South Africa to win the first official IRB women's sevens series.

How do the Black Ferns change their fortunes?

What investment is necessary from the NZRU, from provincial unions, from players, and from the coaching and management staff of the national women's 15-a-side team to prevent another whitewash on home soil in 2013?

Is the unbeaten record since the first IRB-sanctioned Women's Rugby World Cup in jeopardy in 2014?

Most definitely.

What is the solution? Throw more money and resources at women's rugby? More international games? Better domestic competitions and infrastructure? A female board member on the NZRU?

When asked by the Human Rights Commission advocating for a female director on the NZRU what proportion of NZRU funding goes towards women's rugby, the NZRU responded that investment in women's rugby was $2.6 million in both 2010 and 2011.

This reflected 3% of total NZRU investment in the game at a time when the number of females registered to play rugby at all levels and ages was 10%.

It would be interesting to see how this investment is broken down even further with regards to community v elite rugby, and sevens v 15s, but more money won't necessarily produce better results.

A closer look at the playing numbers reveals that fewer than 1000 women aged 21 years and older play rugby.

How can we increase the player pool from which to select the Black Ferns?

The NZRU has a strategic plan for women's rugby, and appointed a women's rugby development officer to strengthen grass-roots rugby infrastructure, but that is a small drop in the ocean of issues that surround women's rugby.

One thing I'm adamant we don't need is more internationals.

They drain resources and don't necessarily guarantee the development of a better product.

Three tests a year is more than adequate, and we've only ever had five tests in one year in the past. Our most competitive games are against each other here on home turf.

We need better coaching at club and provincial level, higher retention from schoolgirls' to club rugby, more teams and competitive games at the NPC level, more collaboration between sevens and 15s programmes, a greater pool of players being monitored and developed, and a return to the old-fashioned passion that volunteers, coaches and players used to have for women's rugby.

The 15-a-side game needs to up the ante if it is going to keep athletic and talented players from switching to the sevens game in droves, especially after the success of the sevens team in Dubai and the inability of the Black Ferns to squash the English roses on three occasions.

The national coaches also need to broaden their vision with regards to player development and accept that many players will choose the sevens game over the 15s game if they get the chance.

Who wouldn't want to go to the Olympics?

They need to start developing a greater pool of players, especially fast, fit and fabulous backs, and then New Zealand will improve its chances of winning not only the Rugby World Cup again in 2014 but also gold in 2016.



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