Bevan Sisson: Is it time for that awkward conversation?

At times, many relationships end up having that awkward conversation: “It’s not you it’s me”.

NZ Rugby is going to have to look in the mirror and have the important discussion in regards to the women’s space in New Zealand’s rugby landscape.

With the current review of the game under way, this area cannot be ignored. They need to start looking at where are they getting their returns. 

Every part of New Zealand from the Government to media and business is undergoing reviews on where they can save money and how to secure their future.

The women’s professional game must be under scrutiny.

The crowds for Super Rugby and the Farah Palmer Cup are minimal at best. 

Getting actual figures is tougher than a straight answer from a politician, but an example from this year is Matatū playing the Blues in Invercargill. 

A crowd of just 2500 turned up at the stadium. Taking into account travel costs, player payments and stadium costs, it shows the model is not sustainable. 

Mentioning crowd numbers involved in the women’s game seems to be a taboo area.

Marlie Packer, the English Roses captain lamented the lack of crowds for last year’s tour of NZ, saying how disappointed she was with the attendance. 

A crowd of only 2500 turned out to watch Matutū play the Blues in Invercargill in March. Photo:...
A crowd of only 2500 turned out to watch Matutū play the Blues in Invercargill in March. Photo: Getty Images
The Roses recently played Ireland in front of 48,000 at Twickenham – a great crowd most would say. 

But to put that in perspective, the game was played at an 80,000-seat stadium in London, a city with a population of about 10 million.

This shows our population is too small to sustain four professional women’s teams. The players and coaches want more money for development, more games and greater player payments.

As the Government has shown, just throwing more money at something is not the answer.

We need to see our top women playing meaningful, competitive and sustainable competitions. The effort they put in cannot be questioned.

Look at Matutū, based out of Lincoln University. Head to one of their open trainings and watch their preparation and willingness to put out a quality product.

The coaching team led by Whitney Hansen is top class, but the public just aren’t connecting with it. 

The current Black Ferns Pacific Four series wouldn’t be close to paying its way, but arguably they need more international games, not less. 

So money has to be saved somewhere and Super Rugby Aupiki is the logical answer.

There is an ongoing conversation around combining Australia’s Super Rugby Women with New Zealand’s competition. However, the recent SRW final between the Waratahs and Fijian Drua had a crowd attendance of 2500 – not helped by playing it in Brisbane where neither team is

based. By adding two New Zealand teams, it may generate some interest from both sides of the Tasman.

NZR has two options, either:

  • Double down on their investment by joining the Australian competition and reduce the NZ teams from four to two – Matatū and one North Island team. Some of the money saved could allow the two remaining teams to increase the number of professional players. Players not picked up can then head to overseas teams.
  • Have that awkward conversation.

•Sisson is a former player, Lincoln, Lincoln University and representative coach and New Zealand age group selector.

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