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Image: Getty / Archi Banal
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OPINIONSportsOctober 26, 2022

All Blacks vs Black Ferns: Incompetence from NZR even worse than malevolence

Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

After scheduling an All Blacks test at the same time as the Black Ferns’ quarterfinal, NZ Rugby has revealed the reason behind the decision.

New Zealand Rugby has addressed accusations of undermining and sabotage after the All Blacks match against Japan was scheduled at the same time as the Black Ferns’ World Cup quarterfinal this Saturday.

The Black Ferns will play Wales in Whangārei with a 7.30pm kick-off. Meanwhile, the All Blacks will start their Northern tour by playing the Brave Blossoms in Japan with a 6.50pm NZT kick-off.

There’s an unwritten rule in New Zealand politics – one that has been duly followed since the dawn of time – that general elections won’t be scheduled on the same day as an All Blacks test at home. Every three years, when the prime minister sits down to discuss possible election dates, the All Blacks schedule will be noted. That’s how much attention the All Blacks grab.

This is understood by the prime minister, it’s understood by event coordinators around the country and it’s understood by broadcasters. If you want eyes on your show, match, polling booth, make sure it’s not happening at the same time as the All Blacks are playing. It’s apparently not understood by NZR because at some point in the past two months, they agreed to schedule an All Blacks match at the same time as the Black Ferns’ World Cup quarterfinal in Whangārei.

The clash has been widely criticised as a deliberate attempt to undermine the tournament and women’s rugby as a whole, with Spark Sport’s Scotty Stevenson commenting on Instagram that the decision from NZR points to larger issues within the organisation. “How an organisation can do this intentionally, when it undermines its own team, when it disadvantages its own fans, and when it only serves to illustrate its own hollow rhetoric when it comes to its support of the women in the game no longer surprises. It only serves to reinforce the belief that those in decision making roles are just not fit for purpose,” he wrote.

The Black Ferns play rugby in front of 34,000 fans at Eden Park (Image: Hagen Hopkins/Getty)

Rumours swirled around the possible motivation behind the scheduling, given the match in Japan is being played at 2.50pm, a time that suggests wriggle room on either side if NZR had insisted on not playing at the same time as their women counterparts. Was it a deliberate move to draw attention from the women’s tournament? Was it a commercial move on behalf of Sky to compete with Spark Sport in the same time slot?

Today, in a written statement, NZR addressed the clash and revealed the reason behind the schedule clash: They forgot that the Black Ferns were playing on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, when Japan Rugby set the kick-off time for the All Blacks Test, NZR did not take into account the Rugby World Cup stipulation that the host nation would play in the Quarterfinal 2 timeslot regardless of pool results and may inadvertently cause a clash,” read the statement.

Somehow this feels worse than if it was revealed to be some strange attempt to sabotage its own team. At least a deliberate sabotage implies that NZR thought about the Black Ferns for more than five seconds when making decisions. Instead, the reason is oops we forgot to look at the draw for the tournament that we are playing in and that we are hosting. 

“NZR did make a request to Japan Rugby to move the kick-off time but we respect the reasons provided for not being able to shift the time.” Putting aside the fact that NZR is a behemoth in world rugby and has a lot of pulling power if it decided to use it, a belated request to move the kick-off time for the simple reason of incompetence is hardly a compelling ask.

Since the schedule was released, Black Ferns players have had to plead with fans to watch their match and save the All Blacks game to watch on delay afterwards. That senior players are having to argue against their own organisation for viewers’ attention while playing at home in a World Cup quarterfinal is…many things.

But it’s also unsurprising. New Zealand Rugby has demonstrated over and over that it pays little attention to the women’s game, so much so that it appears commercially foolish. Even the most cynical, misogynistic  businessman would know that a global tournament and thousands of new fans (read: customers) would warrant some affordable merch or collectibles or something. But there’s none of that and now we have a plausible explanation: New Zealand Rugby forgot that the Black Ferns were playing.

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