by Toni Bruce*
The first team to win back to back The winningest Rugby World Cup 15s team in the world and 2017 World Rugby team of the year.
Kiwi women are showing the world the excitement of rugby. Their unmatched success, humbleness and burning desire to do well brings pride to the nation and inspires girls and boys to take up the sport.
Yesterday, the Black Ferns Sevens team dominated France 29-0, on the back of an unrelenting attack. On their way to the final, only the USA (26-21) provided any real challenge. The Kiwi team blanked Mexico (57-0) and Ireland (45-0).
Commentary focused on the players‘ strength, determination, speed and commitment. In the lead up to Michaela Blyde‘s third try that put the final beyond doubt, the commentator ramped up the excitement: “Michaela Blyde: There is nothing she cannot do.”
The success shows how far women‘s rugby has come since they first tried to play organised rugby nearly 130 years ago. In 1891, as the country debated whether or not women should be allowed to vote, a proposal for a travelling women‘s rugby team failed to gain traction.
The Auckland Star took a strong stance on whether “respectable girls” should “persist in this foolish enterprise” to play rugby. The newspaper stated “every sphere in which women are fitted to take their part should be as freely open to them as to men”.
But claimed “there are some things for which women are constitutionally unfitted, and which are essentially unwomanly”.
Thirty years later, as women tried again, the New Zealand Truth newspaper hoped “girls will have nothing to do with Rugby”.
It identified the threat to men‘s sense of masculinity: “If Rugby is a girls‘ game, then the men who play it must be a lot of ‘sissies‘.”
It went on: “For as soon as ever a girl becomes rough and masculine, then the average man hasn‘t got much respect for her. It is to be hoped that if any girls take on football, the men will treat them with the contempt they deserve.”
Watching the Sevens‘ World Cup final yesterday, I didn‘t see any contempt. Nor did I see rough or masculine ‘girls‘ for whom the average man had little respect. What I and a worldwide television audience relished was an exhibition of open, free-flowing rugby, played in the true spirit of sport by women at the top of their game.
After the win, captain Sarah Goss embodied humbleness, ambition and the belief that the team‘s win was a New Zealand win.
“We came out here, had one goal and that was to take the trophy, the World Cup, back home to New Zealand and we‘ve done that.”
All that remains now is for the powerbrokers and sponsors in rugby to truly wake up to the potential of women‘s rugby to attract spectators because these are the kinds of role models we all want.
*Toni Bruce is a Professor at the University of Auckland and on the board of Women in Sport Aotearoa/Ngā Wāhine Hākinakina o Aotearoa, and WomenSport International.