24 Nov 2018

Women's rugby still facing challenges to get equal recognition

9:15 pm on 24 November 2018

Women's rugby is still living in the shadows at a grass roots level, despite the Black Ferns' successes on the world stage.

Hawke's Bay's Lara Cudd wins a lineout in an Auckland Storm versus Hawke's Bay Tui's game.

Hawke's Bay provincial women's teams struggle under lack of funding, one player says. Photo: Photosport

Coaches say there's still a long way to go before women in rugby get the recognition they deserve.

Dave Jensen coached the top Wellington Women's rugby team for three seasons up until last year.

He said his players were not treated like a provincial rugby team should.

"The first couple of years we were often shoved out to grounds that weren't really rugby grounds at all, let alone training facilities. One of the first couple of trainings we had was on a field past the zoo, which had two working lights.

"It was a junior soccer ground from memory, so little junior posts, not even a full size field to do different things. This was the top women's team in Wellington."

The challenges did not stop there for the team, Jensen said.

"Getting jerseys for the girls and getting correct sizing and things like that, not just a blanket buy of, 'hey we're just gonna get another set of guys' jerseys'.

"And then just getting word out in the regular e-mails early on of, the women are playing this week, this is where they're playing if you guys want to come and watch, that type of thing.

"I don't know if anyone even knew there was a women's team at the club and when and where they were playing. A few of the older members of the club weren't so willing to put forward women's rugby in that regard and it has been a battle."

Wellington Rugby Union said it was committed to growing women's rugby in the region, which now had around 1300 registered female players.

Dave Jensen coached the top Wellington Women's rugby team for three seasons up until last year.

Dave Jensen coached the top Wellington Women's rugby team for three seasons up until last year. Photo: Supplied

Wellington Rugby Union chief executive Matt Evans said he did not know how much funding the Wellington women's team received each year.

However, he said whatever inequities existed in the past, did not exist anymore.

"I couldn't actually answer the question on specific dollars, but I do know it'll be a significant sum. I know in talking to the coaching and management team that there isn't much that they want for.

"We've taken a giant step forward in the last couple of years and there used to be inequity in terms of training kit and training facilities and things like that. The reality is now we even make these ladies work for it by coming to sponsor events with us, it's important to have them out there as role models.

"It resonates with me that when we walk into a school we've got men and women stood shoulder to shoulder promoting our game."

Mr Jensen spent about 14 hours a week training the team, playing games, and planning, all on a voluntary basis.

Coaches of the men's provincial side, the Wellington Lions, are paid.

Mr Evans said that was just the reality of the sport.

"I think there are very, very few people that get paid to coach or train at the elite level of the game, but should there be any difference between the men's and women's version of the game? Ultimately no, there shouldn't be.

"That is a reflection of society and the journey that we've been on. The reality is men have been playing the game 140 years and I suspect the ladies have come in a bit later than that, and we need to catch up."

Te Maari MacGregor and Sam McNicol.

Te Maari MacGregor says there's limited opportunities on access to training facilities. Photo: Photosport

Lack of funding was especially an issue for the Hawke's Bay provincial women's team.

Te Maari MacGregor, who plays in the team and coaches the under-18 side, said it limited their access to training facilities.

"We have set times when we can go to the Hawke's Bay gym, they don't have that opportunity just to go when they are available to go. It's a little bit restricting.

"When we do go away I know that we can only take three or four management, and sometimes we have to leave a coach behind. I know it cost a lot of money, but at the same time there must be money somewhere for us, there must be."

She said the team got dumped with what ever playing gear was available, and could not request specific sizes or additional team-wear.

The players deserved more recognition than that, she said.

"We might be given a t-shirt, but if we all get a T-shirt we might get six smalls and eight extra larges. It's either really small or outrageously big. It sounds really silly, like we've got a T-shirt, but we're representing a province, we're representing our family."

"When you get to the provincial level, it can get very stressful. As a player you don't want to hear that you've got no money. We are there to play a game but if we hear that we're not getting gear it becomes a bit stressful because the things off the field start to impact how the players feel."

MacGregor said she loved the game, and loved being coach.

She said seeing what she had taught come through on the field, and seeing it work, was the greatest reward.

But if women's rugby was to thrive in the future, there must be a level-playing field, she said.

The Women's Rugby World Cup will be played in New Zealand in 2021.

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