This article was first written and published by The Roar.
Rugby Australia launched season two of the Super W competition in this week and I continue to be pleased with the increased focus and attention that Rugby Australia is giving to the women’s XV version of the game.
This has not always been the case. In 2017, I wrote an article criticising Rugby Australia and questioning whether they were committed to success in the women’s XV format.
When I wrote that article, the Australian Wallaroos (Australia’s women’s XV team) were in Ireland competing in the World Cup with their total preparation including one Tri-Nations tournament earlier that year and a team camp prior to departure.
There was no way that this was going to be enough against the top teams in the world like France and New Zealand.
Despite limited opportunity for the team to prepare as a team, there were some promising performances out of the World Cup, including the team doing enough to secure their place at the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup by finishing sixth overall.
But what was clear was that if Rugby Australia wanted success for the women’s XV format and a top-four finish at the next World Cup, some changes needed to be made.
And changes have been made.
This started in December 2017 with the announcement of the Super W competition. That same week, Rugby Australia also confirmed that it would bid for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup signalling a clear intention to focus on the XV format.
In January 2018, Australia announced a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with several positive announcements in relation to the women’s game.
This round of negotiations saw the CBA apply to the Wallabies, Wallaroos, Super Rugby and Aussie 7s players for the first time and guaranteed a base level of play for rugby sevens. A new pregnancy policy was also been built into the agreement. This CBA, again for the first time, also saw an agreement to pay the Wallaroos match payments for Test matches.
The other significant moment last year was in August when the Wallaroos played in a double header match alongside the Wallabies for the first time on Australian soil. This was also the Wallaroos’ 50th Test match.
The only disappointing thing to happen last year was the decision to hold the 2021 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, despite significant support from the Australian Government and key stakeholders at Rugby Australia.
This potentially will give Australia the opportunity to bid once again when Australian women’s rugby is in an even stronger position.
Super W will begin on 23rd February and I am expecting an improvement in the standard of the competition, given that the teams have had the opportunity for a full-season together and there has been more time for preparation.
Given that the competition’s establishment was only announced on December 13 2017, with season one commencing in February of last year, teams had to move quickly to secure players.
There should be increased continuity from season one to season two, many of the players will have had the opportunity to play together before and because of this, I expect standards to improve.
The season will commence with the New South Wales Waratahs women playing the ACT Brumbies women in Canberra. The following weekend will see the Melbourne Rebels women play the Queensland Reds women, while the Rugby Western Australia Women’s team will also begin their 2019 campaign in Round 2.
Similar to last year, Rugby Australia has opted for a hybrid approach where some games will be held as double headers alongside the men’s Super Rugby, placing the women on equal footing with the men, but also through stand-alone fixtures, giving the women the chance to play at boutique venues which are becoming well associated with women’s sport (think of women’s cricket and many of you will automatically think of North Sydney Oval).
In attendance at the launch was also Australian Women’s Rugby President, Buildcorp Principal and the woman who is colloquially known as the ‘fairy godmother’ to the Australian Wallaroos – Josephine Sukkar.
Without Josephine’s ongoing and passionate advocacy and the continued financial support of Buildcorp it is unlikely we would have a Super W competition in the first place, so you can imagine her pride when she was able to announce a 20 per cent increase in women’s rugby XV participation.
It’s no coincidence that these improvements in participation have come off the back of the first Super W competition with women’s XV becoming more visible. You can’t be what you can’t see and now young women and girls can see opportunities for them to represent their state in the Super Rugby competition.
What’s the next thing to aspire to? Appropriately compensating players. How can you help? Support the competition – either by getting out to a game or watching the game on television.
This increased interest will help demonstrate to Rugby Australia that people are interested in women’s rugby and further encourage them to professionalise the game.
It’s only then that we will see real strides made in women’s rugby – just look to the increased quality of play in the women’s cricket space. So get out there in the next couple of weeks and throw your support behind women’s rugby – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.