New push for women into rugby
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.