The state of women’s XVs rugby is not okay

Caroline Layt Roar Rookie

By , Caroline Layt is a Roar Rookie

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    The inaugural Australian Football League Women’s competition went from strength to strength earlier this year.

    It was off the charts in measures of crowd numbers, media interest and coverage. The public fell in love with many of the female players – and how good was Olympic basketball silver medalist Erin Phillips’ performance in the grand final?

    Phillips quickly became a superstar across two codes like the men of yesteryear used to do: think Ray Lindwall, Michael Cleary, Dick Thornett, Keith Miller and Graeme Hughes, to name a few.

    Most people embraced seeing the elite sportswomen running around on a regular basis on television and in the flesh at the ground. The competition was correctly marketed and prospered.

    The AFL put a lot of resources into the competition, and many AFL clubs embraced having all-female sides.

    Their enthusiasm is in stark contrast to what is happening with the Australian Rugby Union.

    The ARU have been very slow – snail’s pace at best – in embracing their female athletes playing rugby at an elite level in the 15-a-side game.

    Granted, rugby does have representative teams at provincial, state and international level, but they have no true week-in-week-out national competition to speak of, unlike the AFL.

    Katrina Barker in action against for Australia against England.

    (ARU Media)

    The ARU have just lost Buildcorp as the sponsor of the men’s National Rugby Championship because it was too slow to set up a bona fide national women’s rugby competition.

    As it stands at the moment, the Women’s XVs National Rugby Championship is done and dusted after just four days.

    The competition is split into two even pools of four teams, and the top teams may not even meet during the tournament. If your team doesn’t perform for one match, you’re gone, and there are no second chances. You won’t be playing in the final.

    At least when I represented Sydney during the 2007-08 NRC tournaments the pool matches lasted 70 minutes and the final was 80 minutes long.

    Nowadays, the competition has regressed and the pool matches are only 40 minutes in duration.

    Buildcorp, as sponsor of the Wallaroos and Women’s XVs National Rugby Championships, reportedly wanted the NRC to be played as a competition in conjunction with the men’s NRC with the women’s matches played as curtain raisers. The ARU said no and Buildcorp founder Josephine Sukkar pulled the money. She was dealing with people who had no interest in expanding the women’s game.

    On top of that, it appears there is an old boy’s mentality that leads to the ARU naming male coaches to the Wallaroos post. It’s the same old stuffy formula: male, pale and stale, and the selection criteria around player selection astounds as well.

    Sydney won the national final against ACT 34-0 this year, yet only six players were selected from the NRC tournament champion Sydney team. The results are there for all to see: a 53-10 drubbing against world champions England, and a similarly disappointing 44-17 loss to New Zealand.

    This type of selection dilemma has been going on for years, and when I was a member of NRC champion Sydney a decade ago we beat Queensland 17-0 in the tournament final, yet they managed to have ten players selected for the national team. All they could muster from our squad was seven.

    Many of us were left scratching our heads trying to understand that one, and the fact the Queensland coach doubled as the Australian assistant coach we felt was a conflict of interest.

    Victoria Latu takes the ball up for the Wallaroos

    (Image: ARU Media)

    Surely the province who beats all comers and has the strongest, fastest and best players, so you’d think they would have the most players in the national squad, but it appears the coaches and selectors use other methods while selecting their squads.

    I’m not mentioning anything untoward, but I’d say first-hand players are picked on age or potential rather than ability at that present moment. I’ve witnessed some darn good players miss out on national selection due to them not fitting the bill over the years.

    Hopefully this will all change now – money talks, and Josephine Sukkar withdrew her cash because she thinks Australian rugby is presently on the nose.

    According to Roy Masters in the Sydney Morning Herald, change is coming at boardroom level. It can’t come soon enough.

    Hopefully then we will see the women’s side prosper in the 15-a-side game in the way our Olympic champion sevens squad does as resources, contracts, elite coaches and a management structure is offered rather than the oily rag it is run on at the moment.

    There is no reason we should lag behind like we do at the moment at international level, as talented players like Ashleigh Hewson, Victoria Latu and Cobie-Jane Morgan deserve so much better.