Rugby World Cup: Kiwi girls find ways to chase Black Ferns dream despite shortage of opportunities

Hundreds of players from all over the country have taken part in the New Zealand junior girls rugby festival this long weekend.

The tournament is further proof the sport is booming for school-aged girls, but one big problem means only a select few can continue to play it. 

Not just professional rugby players have taken the field in Auckland this weekend, but also those a lot younger. 

"As you can see, walking around, the girls are actually buzzing," said tournament organiser Tyrone Campbell. 

Forty teams have travelled from across the country for the very first junior girls festival, showing the growth and interest in the game from young Kiwi girls. 

"There's not a great deal, particularly on a national level, for the girls to come and showcase their skills," said Campbell. 

In 2018, NZ Rugby released a report that admitted the game had a "rapid expansion" among girls, but schools were struggling to keep up with the demand. 

The report also explained that younger girls were being forced to drop out and play other sports, due to a lack of pathways. Despite this, playing numbers are increasing. 

During COVID-19, participation numbers in organised sport dropped massively, but the 2021 Sport New Zealand survey showed rugby was still on the up for girls, with nine percent increase among girls aged 12-14, including 11 percent in Canterbury and 16 percent in Southland.

For many of the girls, playing with each other can be limited, but they're are still finding ways to play the game they love. 

"A lot of these girls play in boys competitions," said Campbell, "For example, the Christchurch FC U13 team, they play in boys competiton down in Canterbury, they're certainly used to mixing it up." 

Italian rugby player Emma Stevanin meets young fans
Italian rugby player Emma Stevanin meets young fans. Photo credit: Newshub

The event has aligned with the Rugby World Cup, with some of the teams - including Italy and Japan - coming to surprise our future Black Ferns. They were blown away by the event. 

"It is beautiful," said Italian centre Emma Stevanin. "In Italy, we are not so lucky to have so many girls playing at this age, so it's amazing to see just a whole tournament about women."

The tournment will hopefully grow year after year, as more girls are supported to play New Zealand's national game. 

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub for live updates of the Black Ferns campaign