19 Jun 2019

Hawke's Bay principals defend decision to bar girl from team

8:44 pm on 19 June 2019

The principals behind a decision to exclude the only girl from a 1st XV rugby team say it's actually a bid to boost the number of girls in the sport.

rugby ball

The decision to not allow a schoolgirl to compete with her rugby team has been met with criticism from politicians and senior figures in the sports world. Photo: 123RF

Five principals from schools around Hawke's Bay have made the decision not to let 11-year-old Briar Hales from Havelock North Intermediate play in the boys' 1st XV team at a school competition - 'Super Six'.

They said if she did, the team would have to forfeit any points if they won.

She has been told to play in the girls' 1st XI team - a team which doesn't exist for the Super Six competition.

Until now, Briar has been playing in the 1st XV team with the boys for the whole year, competing weekly with no disputes.

The rules for the inter-school competition were created by the six schools involved, but the policies for weekly competitions come under New Zealand Rugby.

New Zealand Rugby's head of participation and development, Steve Lancaster, said strict guidelines had been created which allowed boys and girls to play together until the age of 12.

Ahead of the inter-school Super Six competition the principals from Hastings, Havelock North, Heretaunga, Napier, Tamatea and Taradale Intermediate School said girls play seven-a-side and boys play 15-a-side due to the inability of some schools to field a full girls' team in the past.

"The current structures state that girls play in girls' tournaments and boys play in the boys' tournaments," the principals said in a statement.

"While we fully understand the perspective of the family involved, we are mindful of being fair to all students participating in the competition in supporting the rules under which the 2019 season was established.

"This issue will be discussed at the end of the year and decisions made for 2020 after consultation with all schools."

They said they weren't opposed to making changes but it wasn't fair to make changes when the competition was already under way.

One of Briar's 1st XV coaches, Andy Lovatt, said while it was up to the school, he didn't understand why the rules changed for this competition.

"Us three coaches are quite happy to just go and play, and if we don't get any points out of it, then we don't get any points out of it - we aren't too fussed. It's all about the kids having a game of rugby and fun, isn't it?"

He said it was hard, because Briar had made the team and was then getting told she couldn't play.

"Briar wants to play 15-a-side, but there is no 15-a-side for her," Mr Lovatt said.

Current Kiwi Ferns captain Honey Hireme hoped the boys would take a stand for Briar because at this age, it should be about inclusiveness and having fun.

"I'd just like to encourage other young girls that find themselves in those situations to speak up," Hireme said.

"It's really good that Briar's dad brought this to media attention and let New Zealand public know, because we should speak up in these situations and support this young girl who just wants to play the sport she loves, which is rugby."

Green Party spokesperson for sport and recreation Marama Davidson described the decision to exclude girls from the competition as out of touch.

"It's a massive backwards step this decision, it doesn't send a good message for sports in general for all children to involved," Ms Davidson said.

"It just seems like it goes against current practice all around the country."

She said it was clear the decision wasn't motivated by a concern for Briar's safety because she was already heavily involved in school rugby - a sport which girls have been playing with boys for decades.