On the 20th of August Burnside High School’s Girl’s rugby team beat Lincoln in the weekly ten-aside competition final. The match was tough, intense to play and to watch from the side-line but Burnside came away with a 65-48 win. This crowned the girls’ team as the Christchurch champions for the second year in a row. Since 2012 there has been drop in the numbers of girls playing rugby at Burnside and across Christchurch ─ this is the reason for the weekly competition changing to ten-aside from the usual fifteen-aside. However, the Burnside team in particular has still managed to gain excellent results. In fact from 2012 onwards, the girls have experienced probably the best results of recent years: in 2012 they came second after a close loss and then achieved two straight wins in the following years.
The 2014 season began early with preseason training starting in March followed by a sevens tournament on April 9th. The first proper game of the competition came on the 14th of May where Burnside beat Rangiora, 72-7. This set the standard high for the girls for the rest of the season, and gave them a reputation among the other teams. The team was consistent, and the girls only lost one game all year, by a mere five points. They worked hard, and were determined throughout the year, training twice a week. Coach Ross Kennedy and his assistant Rob Smith provided an enthusiastic and fun environment which made the girls eager to learn new skills such as ball handling, tackling and game tactics. The bubbly enthusiasm and passion for rugby filtered from the coaches into the team, and it was evident by the way the girls played how much they all love the game.
The 2012 rugby season at Burnside High School saw the beginning of the International Rugby programme instigated by Mark Ealey (now the rugby administrator at Burnside) where students from a number of different countries; Brazil, France, Italy, America and especially Japan, come to Burnside High every year to further hone their rugby skills. This year the New Zealand girls had the honour of playing alongside three girls from Japan: Mayu Shimizu, a girl who has played in the Under 19’s grade for Japan, Kaede Nakamura, and Misaki Watanabe, and also a girl from the United States, Nia Toliver who has been nicknamed ‘the next Jonah Lomu’.
All of these girls were a huge asset to the team and contributed a lot: speed, strength, agility, an insight into a new culture, and also friendship! Nia Toliver was our highest try scorer, attaining numerous tries every game, becoming a player that the opposition teams feared coming up against. Misaki Watanabe was awarded the most improved player award at the end of the season, after playing her best in every game. They are all great, friendly girls and we are all grateful for the opportunity to play with them. The girls returned home on the 24th of August and they are sorely missed by their friends and team mates in New Zealand.
With only five original team members remaining from the previous year, the 2014 season also saw the arrival of new players, most of whom had never played before. These girls took to the sport like a duck takes to water, and it was incredible to watch the way they learnt to play so well and so quickly which is indicative of the knowledge, skills and dedication of our coaches in training us so proficiently and cohesively to make us a solid unit. The incredible achievements of the team acts as a testament to the dedication of the girls and the management team, particularly Ross Kennedy and I, can only hope that this encourages more girls to come and give rugby a go. My hope is that the numbers of girls playing rugby in Christchurch will begin to increase, especially with more opportunities everywhere, now that sevens rugby for men and women will be a part of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The only trouble I find, and not just with rugby but women’s sport in general, is that it is not broadcast enough. At Burnside alone, a lot of people aren’t aware that the girl’s rugby team even exists, which is something I find surprising and disappointing. And those that do know of the team think we play touch. Ah, Bless. Rugby is our national sport and something that everyone can enjoy collaboratively yet women’s rugby continues to go unrecognised and the achievements of our players unacknowledged. This is despite the New Zealand women’s team, the Black Ferns, being one of our most successful sporting teams, and considered the dominant team in women’s rugby worldwide. They have one of the best winning percentages in international rugby, winning four consecutive world cup titles in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. This is already more than the two titles won by the All Blacks, and yet many New Zealander’s can tell you more about the All Blacks and how successful they are than the Black Ferns. It’s time to put a stop to this sexism that is running rampant through our sporting culture and give women the recognition they not only deserve but have earned.