From it’s foundation, the women’s game of rugby is emerging from the shadow of the traditional viewpoint. Not an unnecessary distraction, not the realm of ‘tom boys’ and certainly not for the fainthearted. The Farah Palmer Cup women’s national provincial rugby competition is fierce, well contested and the perfect testing ground for new talent.
Expanded in 2017 to now accommodate a Premiership/Championship split, in the same design as the Mitre 10 Cup. And while covering all the strongest provinces, it is the growing depth and base of the women’s game, which is most noticeable.
Inspired, as they all must have been, by the World Champion Black Ferns. And why wouldn’t you be? Five-time champions, this Fiao’o Faamausili led team have been dominant–some might say more so than the All Blacks, men’s team. The women are a team to idolize for youngsters.
Women’s Rugby in New Zealand Meeting the Standards
And with those high standards to meet, all areas of the women’s game now are being focused on. Never before has the emphasis been so wide, with many stakeholders providing resources and better pathways now.
From the recruitment of girls and women from other sports [see Sevens] to rugby clubs building in women’s programs and entering teams into local competitions. That gives the prospective players a direction to head in, a challenge to meet and goals to set.
The testing ground is then how far they wish to push. Whereas in the past, it was more a hobby. Not a sport you could develop a sporting career in–however, today the avenues and opportunities are growing exponentially.
Add in all the basic components like training, skills development which is a fundamental. Probably in that area, the women’s game has seen it’s most impressive gains. Gains that have been across the board. Not only locally, but at the 2017 Rugby World Cup, the standards were very high.
Rugby Changed Much in Faamausili’s Career
If one player could identify with the changing, and ever improving game, it is Fiao’o Faamausili (see main photo, far right). The veteran has progressed similarly to the national standards; leading them, along with her dominant Auckland team. Achieving an incredible eight consecutive NPC titles, the women’s rugby landscape has changed out of sight since 1999.
Fa’amausili has seen all the changes first-hand. “It’s improved massively. A lot of girls are playing now, which is great to see. Club rugby and the skills have improved too. The resources available are a lot better.
“The older girls step up and share their knowledge with the younger girls.”
And the core values of the women’s game are sincere to those of the country. Although wholly amateur, the changes in standard now see a much more competitive environment. One which is close to taking the next step-up to professionalism.
While New Zealand Rugby has made indications that ‘in time’ the elite level, Black Ferns should be rewarded, the Farah Palmer Cup players may not see that trickle down to player payments…just yet. The skill level is there, the enthusiasm is high and the popularity is growing. The future looks bright.
2017 Farah Palmer Cup Form
Following the increase in teams; from nine to 11, the choice was made to break the teams up into two groups. A Premiership and Championship division, with games played over a seven week regular season.
The Premiership consists of six teams for the 2017 season:
- Auckland Storm
- Counties Power Storm
- Manawatu Cyclones
- SkyCity Hamilton Waikato
- Wellington Pride
The Championship contains five teams for the 2017 season:
Between the two divisions, cross-competition matches gave teams both an opportunity and challenge; where a top-tier team took on a lower-ranked side. Not that the Championship teams would feel that way. For them, the chance to foot it with the higher placed sides was a blessing.
And that is what happened in Round One. Bay of Plenty Volcanix v Auckland Storm, which resulted in a 10-10 draw. And with that, it has affected the table, as Auckland did not collect maximum points. Especially, the Bay will treasure that scoreline, plus the chance to match-up against the best.
Who is Performing, Who is Challenging
Looking at the table now, after five weeks, no teams have gone through unbeaten. Canterbury hold their top position, due to acquisition of bonus points. Counties-Manukau sit just behind on 17 points, even with Wellington and Auckland, but ahead on points differential, to round out the top four.
Note: top four teams play in a semifinal.
In the Championship, Bay of Plenty* have an advantage over Otago, with North Harbour in third place. That is important, as the top placed side earns a week off, as the second and third teams face off in a qualifier match for the Cup final. Neither Hawke’s Bay* or Tasman have any competition points.
* teams yet to fulfil a Bye round
Farah Palmer Cup the Perfect Testing Ground for Women’s Rugby
With the teams now up and running at full speed after five weeks, sides becoming settled. That is where the improvements are seen most. Over 80 minutes, the energy is high. No longer is there an imbalance between the top sides–as shown when the Volcanics proved in their 10-10 result.
With two rounds still to play, there are still some important matches to play, which will determine the final placings.
And the women competing in this years Farah Palmer Cup are each providing national head coach Glenn Moore with a good selection of names to take into account. At the time of publishing, no dates had been planned for an end-of-year tour, but Moore will want to retain many of the names who received winners medals in Belfast, on August 29.
The wealth of talent to enjoy watching, is not only pleasing for the national selectors, but also for all stakeholders of the women’s rugby game.
Australia Rugby Focus on UON University 7s
While New Zealand are fully focused on the XV’s game, Australia do not have that luxury. Reigning Olympic champions, the sevens game is stronger there, so respectfully Rugby Australia have focused on that form of the game. The University 7s circuit has seen eight University teams play in a series of tournaments, to crown an overall champion (see below).
When launched, Jill Scanlan reported that “the first big step in the emergence of domestic elite level Women’s Sevens”. And with the backing of the national body, it demonstrated how two countries focus differently, on their respective strengths: New Zealand current XV’s champions, and Australia current Olympic champs.
You might say ‘Horses for courses’ when it comes to each nations women’s rugby preference.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images