Stella Mills: Scheduling mess as All Blacks clash with Black Ferns - Ruck

Stella Mills: Scheduling mess as All Blacks clash with Black Ferns

The Rugby World Cup has been a huge success so far, that’s not a surprise to me. That’s not a surprise to the fans, and that’s certainly not a surprise for the players. But it does seem to be a surprise for those in charge of scheduling times. 

For those not in the know, the All Blacks are playing a standalone test match against Japan, scheduled to kick off at 18:50 NZT. However, at the same time the Black Ferns are due to play in the Rugby World Cup Quarterfinals – which by the way is happening on home soil.  

As first written by New Zealand broadcaster Scotty Stevenson, New Zealand Rugby have known for a year now that the Black Fern’s would have this slot for the quarterfinals, as the home nation gets this priority slot. It was always going to be the second game on the Saturday. 

So, it came as a surprise to many when the All-Blacks Northern tour directly clashed with the Black Fern’s match. 

I don’t think I can sum it up better than Scotty himself, who said:

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”

The move hasn’t gone unnoticed back home either, with broadcaster Nick Heath sharing similar sentiments. 

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this shall we.I am well aware that both men’s and women’s rugby can and do attract different segments of fans to watch and support the game. I am not for one moment saying we have a 100% overlap between both games, but the opportunity to support the women’s game must be made available to fans already watching and appreciating the men. 

I wrote before that we don’t need to beg the men’s game for supporters, because we have enough of our own already. This point still stands, the opening matches at Eden Park saw 34,235 people watching whilst we also saw 16,571 fans in Whangārei. 

However, we are missing a trick here with this scheduling. Its highlighting a clear disconnect in thinking from NZRU, and one which must be questioned. 

If I have learnt anything from being on the other side of the world throughout this tournament, it is that you will never please everyone with game scheduling. Even back home in the domestic league, if games are put on for a late night kick off and tickets aren’t picked up, the kick-off time is blamed. The same match could be played in the afternoon, and the same blame game would start. 

We aren’t talking about a small Friday night lights match here, we are talking about the national rugby team playing arguably some of the best rugby they have ever played on the international stage which just so happens to be in NZRU’s back garden.  

This puts fans at a huge disadvantage. Rugby in New Zealand is a core part of the culture here, you are forcing people to choose between two of the national teams, pitting them against each other when instead with a small scheduling change you could be supporting the game to thrive?

The Black Ferns should have undisputed access to the New Zealand public on Saturday night, this is arguably the biggest stage the players will have played on – the world is focused on this tournament. Media attention during and throughout this tournament has never been so high. It’s so high that media managers are now at the stage of having to field requests for interviews accordingly – because demand for players is THAT high. 

Also, the players involved in these games have been putting a serious shift in over the past few weeks. This tournament has had everything a fan wants, the rugby has been nail biting – we have had a few shocking headlines, it’s everything that we could have wanted and more. 

Just look at Fiji, as an Brit that opening match against England was a hard one to watch. Then you look at Australia, who came out with a punch and a point to prove at Eden Park against the Black Ferns. 

The way the Black Fern’s play is electric, you never know what they are going to do next. They play with a smile on their face and real passion for the game, and it shows. Why would you not want to put this on the biggest stage possible? Why would you not want to promote the hell out of it and just for one time, prioritise women’s sport? 

All questions that will no doubt be fielded and answered over the coming days, should we get a response.