Wayne Smith: Top female rugby coaches need opportunities

The man leading the Black Ferns to this year’s Rugby World Cup is hopeful it won’t be long before women are in prominent head coaching roles.

New Black Ferns head coach Wayne Smith.
Photo: Photosport

Former All Blacks player and coach Wayne Smith has taken the reigns of the New Zealand women’s team after being confirmed as Black Ferns new director of rugby.

Smith will be assisted by Wesley Clarke and Whitney Hansen as well as scrum coach Mike Cron and another former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, who will play a support role.

The appointments were announced days after the surprise resignation of Glenn Moore in the wake of a highly critical report into the culture within the Black Ferns’ camp.

The report also created more discussion about the lack of women in top coaching roles within rugby in New Zealand.

Smith, though, said he was hopeful it wouldn’t be long before that would start to change.

“I know a lot of [female coaches] and I know how capable they are.

“They just need an opportunity.”

Smith recalled in his early days as a coach with Canterbury in the late 1980s, three coaches who helped him with coaching courses were women players.

So, more than three decades on, why had the prominence of female coaches made little progression?

“In a lot of women’s sport, it’s been put to the side. Men’s sport has tended to dominate.

“I think there’s a wake-up call here and things will move pretty quickly.

“We’ve got Whitney in the [Black Ferns coaching team], there are other women like Crystal Kaua, who was assistant coach of Chiefs Manawa.

“Mel Bosman, Anna Richards. There’s all sorts around the country, we just need to make sure we put some resource into them and bring them through.

“Not just as coaches in the women’s game, but coaches in the men’s game, as well. Why not?”

As for the here and now, Smith said he didn’t believe a culture change was needed within the camp.

He planned to adopt some initiatives that should make it easier for the players to perform on the field, including initiatives that the All Blacks use to lessen the pressure.

“We’ll put those in place as we go. The girls are positive towards it, I can’t envisage any major issues.

Meanwhile an advocate believed NZR still had work to do to put women’s rugby “front and centre” despite its smart appointment of Smith.

The chairperson of Women in Rugby Aoteraoa, Traci Houpapa, said the appointments are “a smart stopgap measure” but they are also a Band-Aid.

“What this really says is that New Zealand Rugby really needs to step up up in the interim. Fund, resource and support a comprehensive plan to support women’s rugby from schoolgirls to international and they need to do that before the end of the year.”

The Black Ferns are the current world champions, however, Houpapa said with just five months to go before Aotearoa hosts the Women’s World Cup it’s “a tall order” for any coaching, management and playing group to be asked to defend a world title.

They will do as well as they can “but they’re up against it”, she told Morning Report.

“The reality is that years of successive under-resourcing, under-investment and lack of support for women’s rugby is showing now and it’s happening at the worst possible time for New Zealand Rugby and the Black Ferns because we are hosting the world and the world is watching us.”

She said it has been interesting to watch reaction on social media which has mainly focused on some high-level appointments being made “as a Band-Aid” for what’s really going on in rugby.

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Traci Houpapa says there there has been years of under-investment of women’s rugby in New Zealand.
Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Houpapa said there were several wāhine coaches within Aotearoa who could be appointed to top roles with the Black Ferns, however, this hasn’t happened so far.

She is pushing for NZ Rugby to take the review seriously and show some commitment to putting in place a plan for wāhine rugby to be “front and centre”.

“England’s done it, France has done it as well and we now need to see Aotearoa step up.”

She said the union would need to work with organisations like hers if it was serious about reform.

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