Blacks Ferns v All Blacks: a choice that could have been easily avoided (Image: RNZ/Tina Tiller)
Blacks Ferns v All Blacks: a choice that could have been easily avoided (Image: RNZ/Tina Tiller)

The BulletinOctober 27, 2022

The worst sporting clash this weekend? New Zealand vs New Zealand

Blacks Ferns v All Blacks: a choice that could have been easily avoided (Image: RNZ/Tina Tiller)
Blacks Ferns v All Blacks: a choice that could have been easily avoided (Image: RNZ/Tina Tiller)

An error by New Zealand Rugby pits two of its own teams against each other in a battle for eyeballs at a crucial juncture for women’s rugby, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday morning, sign up here.


Unforced scheduling error 

It’s been quite the week for gender equality milestones. We have a parliament of MPs that’s now made up of more women than men. RNZ’s Anneke Smith did a beautiful job documenting the road to this moment in time. Marilyn Waring recalled being marched down to sit directly in front of Robert Muldoon and told that “he can’t ignore you there, dear”. Perhaps someone should’ve deployed that strategy with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and plonked the Black Ferns within viewing distance. It might have avoided an unforced error in scheduling the All Blacks game against Japan at the same time as the Black Ferns’ Rugby World Cup quarterfinal.

Disgraceful error, says minister

News of the scheduling clash emerged at the beginning of the week. As Madeleine Chapman writes, it turns out it was not malevolence at play here but incompetence, which is actually worse. NZR sort of…forgot about the Black Ferns. In its statement it said “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.” Minister Kiritapu Allan has called the error “disgraceful” while sports minister Grant Robertson has said he expects better from NZR.

Black Ferns forced to front with no proactive statement from NZR

New Zealand Rugby didn’t proactively explain this error despite realising what had happened on Sunday night. They left senior Black Ferns and well-versed media spokesplayers to “cheekily” suggest people watch the All Blacks game on replay. They probably shouldn’t have had to cheekily suggest anything. NZR could have front footed it. Or just avoided it completely. Columnist, player and member of the strategic advisory group for Women in Rugby Aotearoa, Alice Soper, had this to say on Twitter: “This is just the top rung of inadequate oversight that you can climb all the way down the grassroots.”

Mean and unnecessary test on home turf for Black Ferns

As much as this tournament has been about the play, commercially important metrics like crowd size and broadcast eyeballs matter. Arguments about why women’s rugby isn’t given the same priority as the All Blacks often boil down to its commercial viability and popularity. It’s a point the Herald’s Gregor Paul makes very well (paywalled) when looking for an upside in all this. Paul writes that the assumption that the All Blacks will win the battle for eyeballs might be proven wrong, and even if it’s not, at least the Black Ferns will know how they stack up as commercial competitors to the men’s team. The Black Ferns are playing on home turf in a World Cup we’re hosting and need to leverage off the success of the tournament, so it still seems like a mean and unnecessary test. Even if the jousting for eyeballs pays off, NZR has potentially jeopardised outcomes for one of its own teams. All of it could have been avoided by nipping down the Warehouse and buying a $3.99 2022 wall planner.

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