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Wellington Rugby Football Union has today announced the launch of #RUGBYHERWAY, an innovative new programme designed specifically for women and girls. 

The provincial union recognises the importance of providing an environment for women and girls to develop within the sport in a supportive, welcoming, and safe environment, and realises that everybody experiences rugby in diverse ways. 

Wellington Rugby Football Union CEO, Matt Evans says he is thrilled with the launch of #RUGBYHERWAY. 

“This is a long time coming. This programme is about creating pathways for women and girls in rugby, from grassroots to professional rugby, from players through to administrators, coaches, and leadership positions. More so, it is about creating opportunities for women and girls to take part and enjoy rugby in a community environment, and to have fun.” 

The #RUGBYHERWAY programme will include junior skill sessions, junior holiday programmes, junior and secondary school development days for girls, and coaching and officiating courses for women-only, as well as offering young leaders and management development opportunities for women in rugby. 

Former Black Fern and Chair of Centurions Rugby Football Club, Erin Rush, said there has been a huge change in the women’s and girls’ game.  

“There was no grassroots girls rugby when I played, so I didn’t start till I was 19 years-old when I was at university,” said Rush. 

Rush acknowledges that there is still a challenge getting women’s rugby on the field, especially given the recent lockdowns and implications of Covid.  

“We haven’t lifted all the barriers and there is still work to do for sure, but the biggest change has been just the opportunity for girls to play rugby, girls are now welcomed, and girls are encouraged,” she said. 

The objective of the programme is to provide fun, non-traditional development opportunities with the purpose of increasing the confidence and skills base for women and girls at all experience levels.  

#RUGBYHERWAY provides a dedicated platform through its own social media channels and colourful branding for women and girls and is a chance for them to engage in a sporting activity that’s for females, by females. 

The new programme is run by female activators, which not only creates new leadership pathways, but also provides an opportunity for females to learn the skills to coach young girls and other women. 

Wellington Pride and Petone Rugby Club halfback, Milly Mackey, is one of the new programme activators. No stranger to rugby, she understands the challenges for girls having played from an early age.  

“I don’t actually remember when I played my first game, but I know I got involved in rugby when I was about five,” explained Mackey.  

“At a young age rugby is dominated by the boys, numbers-wise, so for little girls that can be really scary, especially if you’re like six, seven or eight years-old.”  

“There are only three or four girls in the team playing with the boys, and you’re just thinking they’re not going to talk to me, they’re going to be mean to me, they’re bigger than me, they’re not going to pass to me, they might hurt me. So, we’ve got to promote the game so that girls know that rugby is not just for boys, it’s for girls as well. If we start having all-girls sessions at younger ages, then the easier it will be to flow on,” said Mackey. 

“My role as an activator is to get more girls playing rugby and then keeping them playing. By opening them up to how fun it can be and the benefits of playing rugby you’re teaching important life skills that will transfer into the workplace and everyday life.”  

“You’re not always going to be playing with boys. As you get older, you’ll be playing with all-girls teams and you also get to represent your school, club and your country.” 

Tamara Ruaporo is another halfback, who plays for Northern United. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Development Studies.  

“I purposely put time aside for rugby because it’s something I really want to focus on,” she said. 

“Rugby is the people that you meet and the connections that you make. I’ve made so many friends just from the game, it’s become such a huge part of my life. You can walk into any club and they would be so happy to have you.” 

Mackey would agree. “The best thing is the people you get to meet along the way. I’ve met some of my best mates through rugby. It can take you places, and you meet people you would never ever come across, then they end up becoming some of your mates. You also get immersed in lots of different cultures as well. That comes with the people, it opens up new horizons and learnings.” 

Monique Dalley has been a referee for the past five years, and also believes rugby is about the people and relationships you form.  

“It’s the people, whether it be the coaches or your fellow referees, even down to the photographers on the sidelines. It’s a really cool environment and a great way to meet people, and as a referee I get to see it from the best seat in the house, you get to see everything.” 

Not everyone experiences rugby as a player and there are other ways for women and girls to get involved in the game.  

“Mum and dad would’ve never encouraged me to play rugby as a kid, possibly because of the contact aspect, but then I played handball, which is contact anyway, so I thought I’d give rugby a go as I got older,” said Dalley. 

“I’ve grown up umpiring and refereeing, I also umpired handball to an international level and netball when I was younger starting when I was 10. But after playing a couple of games of rugby, I saw other women like Bex Mahoney breaking down barriers and thought I’ve refereed before, why not give it ago.”  

Sal O’Reilly-Nugent hasn’t played rugby either, but over the last 10 years, she has played an important role as mum to two young rugby players, son Finn and daughter Nia who plays First XV rugby for St Mary’s College. She has coached, managed, and been a valuable administrator of the game and is currently a board member of Wellington Rugby Football Union and Deputy Chair of the union’s Rugby Board. 

“My daughter is my motivation, I’ve challenged myself about what can I do to help young girls like her who love rugby, so I’m really excited about this new programme,” she said. 

“This is the foundation we’ve been trying to get for years, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a dedicated platform for women and girls before, so this is going to be the foundation that we can just grow and grow from.” 

“It’s more important to reach the girls who don’t play rugby and by offering different sorts of experiences and different game formats, they can come along and try the game and really enjoy it." 

#RUGBYHERWAY launches at Wellington Rugby’s Women & Girls Gala Day, 10AM-1PM, Saturday 7 May at Petone Rec, which also heralds the start of the union’s Women & Girls Rugby month. Premier Women’s fixtures will kick off at 11:30AM. 

The Women’s Rugby World Cup will also be on display 10AM-12PM, and the Gala Day will feature special appearances by Wellington-based Black Ferns players, as well as other influential women in rugby.  


Key Contact: 

Kelsi Ham 

Game Development Officer – Women + Girls 

+64 20 411 31979 

[email protected] 


Media Contact: 

Rebecca Ambler 

Communications & Media Manager 

+64 22 413 4237  

[email protected]