Planning the key to Shute Shield expansion

For far too long, there was a reluctance or inability among some Sydney rugby clubs to set-up women’s XV sides.

Proposals were either ignored or placed in the too hard basket.

Just over half the current clubs – Sydney Uni, Western Sydney Two Blues, Warringah, Gordon, Easts, Randwick and Hunter Wildfires – fielded teams in this year’s Jack Scott Cup.

But from 2023 there will be no choice.

Under the terms of participation in the competition, all 13 men’s Shute Shield clubs must roll out women’s XVs from the start of the 2023 season.

No women’s team means no Shute Shield spot.

This rule change echos a similar change rolled out in the premier competition in Fiji, the Skipper Cup, during the 2018 season just one year ahead of the women’s national VXs team, the Fijiana, qualifying for their first Rugby World Cup.

Wallaroos star, Sera Naiqama, who plays for Sydney Uni, is delighted the heavy lifting will be done by all clubs, not just a select few.

“I think it’s a timely move for the competition,” she said.

“Since I started in 2013 at Sydney Uni, it’s been the same clubs competing week in, week out.

“We always talk about growing the game and developing pathways, but we’ve been facing the same girls.

“It’s super exciting to be expanding our competition. This is a chance to grow the game and get more girls involved.

“We will now have a pathway for player from the grassroots up.

“This is a real positive for women’s rugby. It’s an opportunity to add to our 15s depth.”

Newly-appointed Wallaroos coach, Jay Tregonning, believes the new competition is a big step in the right direction but warned it will take time to bear fruit.

He said; “The more competitive rugby we get the better for the game overall. I applaud the clubs for making this move and encourage as many players as possible to get on board.

“2023 is not that far away and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then to ensure the competition reaches a certain standard.

“There will be challenges and we need to be patient.”

Ioanita Gentles is director of women’s rugby at Manly, a foundation Shute Shield club based on Sydney’s northern beaches.

She welcomes the expansion plan but is taking a proceed-with-caution approach as many clubs are not set-up for 15-a-side rugby.

“Obviously this is a great step forward for women’s rugby.  The expansion of women’s rugby is not just a positive, it’s fantastic,” Ioanita said.

“But we need to get this right and be seen to get this right from the outset and that starts with player welfare – this is crucial.

“This means getting more good coaches and coaching systems in place, with specific tackle, tackler and ball-carrier techniques and skills all of which need to be embedded before we start.

“Many girls will be keen to step up from 7s to 15s but achieving this in just one season will be a stretch.

“With 13 clubs, we need to recruit and prepare 300-plus women, many of whom will be new to rugby and there’s no way we can allow our girls to take the field unless we are confident that they have the necessary skill-sets and readiness to play this high impact game.”

Sarah Mauger, club captain of the Manly Mermaids 7s team, added; “I think it’s awesome that Rugby NSW are really pushing to expand women’s rugby by mandating every Shute Shield team have a 15s team.

“However, it is going to be extremely difficult for a lot of clubs to develop a team without jeopardising already strong 7s programs.

“It will take a lot of work from the people involved in the clubs to get this going but give it a couple years and it’ll produce an awesome pathway for juniors coming through the ranks.

“They will be able to play both 15s/7s for one club.”

The match-day program for the 2023 season is yet to be revealed but it’s hoped the women will share centre stage with senior men’s teams and attract coverage through streaming services.

Article adapted from the Oceania Rugby website.