Written by Max Sharp.
I'm pleased to have started watching womens' rugby, because though many of the games in Super Rugby Aupiki devolved into much slower games by the final minute, we got to introduce ourselves to some extreme class amongst the players, whether they were performing well at scrum time, on defence, or scoring classy tries.
I found Super Rugby Aupiki well-worth the watch, there was such enthusiasm and joy on the faces of the players, who all showed off some real passion for the game. I've selected the following lineup as my Team of the Tournament:
Angel Mulu (Chiefs)
Luka Connor (Chiefs)
Leilani Perese (Hurricanes)
Chelsea Bremner (Matatū)
Maiakawanakaulani Roos (Blues)
Alana Bremner (Matatū)
Les Elder (Chiefs)
Kennedy Simon (Chiefs)
Iritana Hohaia (Hurricanes)
Kelly Brazier (Chiefs)
Ayesha Leti-I'iga (Hurricanes)
Renee Wickliffe (Chiefs)
Mele Hufunga (Blues)
Portia Woodman (Chiefs)
Renee Holmes (Matatū)
Female rugby players have, unfortunately, been struggling to reach the same heights of their male counterparts ever since the first Black Ferns game, in 1989. This has been the result of womens' rugby not generating enough revenue, this lack of revenue has come from not reaching the same audience numbers, these audiences appear to cite sexism, biological differences between women and men and also, perhaps, lack of marketing, as reasons for not watching.
Super Rugby Aupiki however, will be the game-changer to such difficulties if it can be done right.
Big-name players such as Stacey Fluhler, Portia Woodman and Sarah Hirini could be active in test rugby for another World Cup cycle, so that's incentive to watch already. If Super Rugby Aupiki (or mens' U-20) games are used as curtain-raisers before Super Rugby Pacific games, this will do a brilliant job at growing our game.
Those at home will have the option to turn on the television and see their favourite female players if this curtain-raiser strategy is adopted; they will then get to watch promising youngsters like Grace Brooker, Amy Rule and Liana Mikaele-Tu'u. Performances from up-and-comers on the Super Rugby Aupiki stage will get the super-fans at the stadia talking, word of mouth is perhaps one of the best marketing strategies you can use.
Fans who head down to see games in-person will also get a bit more bang for their buck, it'll be a nice incentive to buy game tickets since you'll get to see two live games.
If audiences come to adopt the idea of watching either the U20's Super Rugby sides, or, better yet, female Super Rugby sides, as regular curtain raisers, this will enable a habit of watching the women before then men, going up to test level. Imagine heading down to Eden Park to watch the likes of Alana Bremner and Kennedy Simon tear it up, then getting to see a 100m solo try by Will Jordan just two hours later. What incredible value for money that would be.
Super Rugby Aupiki is the antidote to the slow-burning decline of New Zealand rugby that has been in place ever since Steve Hansen's All Blacks succumbed to their 2016 loss to Ireland in Chicago, USA. Those watching at home will see more ads because they're seeing the curtain-raiser; Super Rugby Aupiki, then, Super Rugby Pacific. This will generate exponentially more revenue that will not only at-long-last pay the salaries of female rugby players, but give the NZRU more cash to funnel down into the grassroots.
The Chiefs Manawa, NiB Blues, Hurricanes Poua and Matatū, all in 2022, had the players who will collect an audiences' attention span. We're in the early years of a golden generation and it would be silly to waste this once-in-a lifetime opportunity, to finally take the plunge into making womens' rugby the powerhouse that mens' rugby has been, since long before the German Empire's defeat in World War II.
As mentioned before, we have the players to do this. Let's put the pressure on the NZRU into making the 2023 Super Rugby Aupiki season even longer, so we can hopefully, eventually, see the day where our daughters can earn the same salary as our sons for playing a game of footy.