SBS Bank Hawkins

Women's Teams Making Strides

17 May 2012

Belfast WomenIt is business as usual for the top teams in the opening weeks of the women’s senior competition.

Last season’s finalists, University and Sydenham, are unbeaten after five rounds. However, they have been joined at the top by country side Dunsandel-Irwell, who also have a perfect record.

Women’s board member Sarah Helmore says several of last season’s lower-ranked teams are challenging the front-runners.

“(Dunsandel-Irwell) may not have hit the two big teams in Varsity and Sydenham, but still that’s very good because it’s only their second season in the competition. It’s great for them,” she says.

The competition has reverted to nine teams after the New Brighton side, which was largely by rugby league players without their own competition last season, dropped out.

Sarah says their numbers were affected by the earthquake. “They did try to restock those numbers, but they weren’t able to find a full team.”

With sevens soon to be included in the Olympics, women’s rugby is expected to flourish.

A number of players are being given specialist training by Canterbury sevens coach Chris Neill.

Sarah says any potential boost in numbers has yet to come to fruition for the club competition.

“I don’t know if we’ll see the full effect until next season. I know half the girls Chris has picked up for the sevens already play 15s, and some have other winter sport commitments and still don’t play rugby.”

In time, it is hoped the majority of sevens players will play both versions.

“Ideally, that’s what we’d like them to do but obviously if they’re quite talented in other sports, then they would have to be prepared to give those up,” Sarah says.

“For some in the sevens programme, that may not be a good option. They’re just getting a taste of sevens and when they decide they’re in contention for higher honours, they would have to make a commitment to the game of rugby.”

In a changing of the guard at representative level, Sarah has stepped down as coach of the Canterbury women’s side. Former assistant coach John Sherratt will take the reigns in this season’s NPC.

“I’ve had my time and decided that was enough. I’m going to pursue other things,” she says.

There are two major changes to this year’s NPC. Waikato has re-entered the competition and the final is expected to be played as curtain-raiser to the men’s ITM Cup final.

The later start date will allow the squad up to four weeks of preparation between the club final and first representative match.

Last season’s programme was condensed because of the Rugby World Cup.

“Last year, we had a week basically, which wasn’t a lot of time, so you’ve got a full three to four weeks to fit some extra games in or to prepare the team,” Sarah says.

The new format will be a balancing act, she says.

“There are pros and cons, but if you have a decent pre-season you can get rid of those cons.”

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