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Opinion

'Gone backwards': RA has been very, very quiet on women's rugby

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10th November, 2021
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November must be a utopian month for rugby. Last weekend there were 12 men’s Test matches and six women’s Test matches. And it is all on again this weekend.

Now, to be a bit contrarian, while the Wallabies are up and about taking in the UK, the Wallaroos are back in Australia and must be wondering what is going on. There is a lot happening in the women’s game except the Wallaroos are not part of it.

Currently there are 12 countries playing Tests in the UK and Europe. The Red Roses just defeated the Black Ferns again by the biggest margin. The game was live on BBC2 and had an audience of 700,000.

Social media lit up with France and South Africa’s post-game celebrations. A few issues are publicly playing out with Irish women’s rugby for not qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

Wales is contracting some players and New Zealand rugby has signed 105 players to short-term contracts for their new Super Rugby season.

Then as a side issue, the NRL has introduced two more teams to their NRLW competition for next year with the NRLW draw just announced plus State of Origin and a World Cup.

Ali Brigginshaw of the Maroons runs the ball

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Rugby Australia has been very, very quiet. I am not sure if it is a priorities issue, lack of interest, lack of resources, lack of funds or a combination of all of these.

Maybe it is similar to the NRC, they know it is important but cannot fund it.

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It is just odd and hard to understand that the USA, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Argentina are up in Europe. Also the Matildas played two games against Brazil recently and have the USA football team coming out.

While the sevens program is undergoing a review, it was disappointing to see Emma Tonegato step away from the program and now join the St George Illawarra NRLW team.

But in reality she had been part of the program for eight years and achieved everything. Soon after she announced her move, World Rugby put out two posts congratulating her on her achievements.

Strangely it was two days later that the Aussie sevens’ account posted anything and Rugby Australia still has not posted anything. Priorities.

But following some social media criticism, Rugby Australia seems to have learnt to lift its game.

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When Ellia Green announced she would no longer be part of the sevens program, the Aussie sevens account and Rugby Australia account came out quickly with a number of posts.

There just seems to be a lack of recognition by Rugby Australia for the women’s sevens team, even though they have been the only shining light in the last five years, with some of the highest profile players.

Charlotte Caslick

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Then last week it was announced that two Wallaroos had signed with a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise the South Island women’s team, Matatu.

While it is a great opportunity for them, they will miss the first part of the Australian Super W competition. It was reported that Rugby Australia had to quickly scramble to work out a selection policy for players who are playing overseas.

Women’s rugby in Australia faces the same challenges as the men, competition for talent. Both the AFL and NRL are now well ahead.

This is disappointing as the development of the sevens program was world-leading and the Super W competition started before the NRLW and New Zealand Super Rugby. It all seems to have gone backwards.

Just looking at the NRLW, at least 20 of the players have had some involvement in rugby sevens and 15s. Charlotte Caslick has said she would have liked to play for the Roosters again but it clashes with her sevens commitments.

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Charlotte Caslick of the Roosters.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It must be difficult for the Australian players seeing all the teams playing up north and enjoying one of the benefits of rugby: travel. This is especially important when the players are not even semi-professional.

While it seems to be all doom and gloom, credit where it is due. Rugby Australia did originally develop a great sevens program #OlympicGold and started the Super W competition back in 2018.

Stan Sport has lifted the bar, showing a lot of NZ domestic women’s games and the internationals in the UK.

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I have to mention that Stan Sport’s inclusion of Wallaroo Sera Naiqama has been a winner, although a constant reminder that the Wallaroos have not played since 2019.

Women’s rugby does not currently have the profile but it is still an opportunity. It is not just the playing component but down the track they become long-term rugby supporters.

Also you just need to look at cricket and AFL to see the benefits of investing in the women’s game.

The Wallaroos

(Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Now if the issue is that Rugby Australia is stretched financially and they do not want to come out and say it publicly, which is understandable, it wouldn’t be a great look, then at least provide some regular communication on what it is doing or planning. Provide some hope.

Rugby Australia needs to decide where it stands with the women’s game. Time is running out. The Wallaroos’ camp for December has been postponed to January.

There is a World Cup next year. Rugby Australia needs to give the women a fair chance to compete.

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Then in 2023 World Rugby has announced a 16-team, three-tier WXV global competition with Australia playing New Zealand, USA and Canada on an annual basis. Again, Rugby Australia has to give them a chance to compete.

Let’s just hope Rugby Australia has it all under control, they just haven’t communicated it very well at this stage.

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