New push for women into rugby

South Waikato News - - SPORT / TE PAPA HA¯KINAKINA -

She might be a fair way from home, but Toko­roa’s Chelsea Al­ley is chang­ing the face of New Zealand rugby.

The North Har­bour Rugby Union is the first in this coun­try to em­ploy some­one to fo­cus solely on the devel­op­ment of women’s rugby and Al­ley is the face of this pi­o­neer­ing role.

Al­ley, 22, has gone from be­ing the odd one out to rep­re­sent­ing New Zealand in sev­ens and the Black Ferns.

‘‘ Rugby has al­ways been per­ceived as a boys sport,’’ Al­ley says.

‘‘ When I was grow­ing up play­ing I was the only girl run­ning around the field – but I loved it so it didn’t bother me.

‘‘Now it’s so en­cour­ag­ing to see girls at the ages of 5 to 10 hav­ing num­bers enough to play in their own girls’ team and girls’ only tour­na­ments.’’

Grow­ing the game in the re­gion from pri­mary school aged girls play­ing rippa, to sec­ondary school girls play­ing sev­ens, tens and fif­teens, to women play­ing in clubs is a big part of Al­ley’s job.

She also wants to bridge the gap be­tween each level and es­tab­lish clear pathways for play­ers to give them op­por­tu­ni­ties for higher honours.

‘‘I want women’s rugby to be viewed as a pro­fes­sional, hard­work­ing and en­joy­able en­vi­ron­ment, that girls are proud to be a part of.’’

Get­ting girls to give the game a go for the first time can be hard.

‘‘ Most of them come from net­ball or off the track, and I think the con­tact is what puts them off,’’ Al­ley says.

‘‘I’ve found that sev­ens is less in­tim­i­dat­ing for some­one play­ing for the first time be­cause there are far less play­ers, more space and there­fore less break­downs. Af­ter a sea­son of sev­ens it’s then much eas­ier to tran­si­tion them into a full 15s sea­son.

‘‘Most girls I’ve worked with who have tran­si­tioned from a dif­fer­ent sport have never looked back. You only have to look at the New Zealand sev­ens team with the likes of Kayla McAlister and Por­tia Wood­man – both pre­vi­ously rep net­ballers and both Har­bour girls – for ev­i­dence.’’

Aim­ing high: Chelsea Al­ley works for the North Har­bour Rugby Union with a fo­cus on the devel­op­ment of women’s rugby.

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