Rugby World Cup: Benefits of Black Ferns success felt far beyond scoreboard, packed stadiums

On the eve of the Rugby World Cup final, one Black Ferns star admits the nerves haven't set in just yet.

The team are beyond excited to play in front of a soldout crowd at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday night, with the game expected to set another new TV viewership record and hype around the women's game living on beyond the final whistle.

If support at this Rugby World Cup is anything to go by, New Zealanders have fallen in love with the Black Ferns and women's rugby.

"To have a group of kids come out to specifically see the Black Ferns is really unreal," admitted star winger Portia Woodman.

Unreal, but the nerves aren't creeping in just yet.

"This is our last chance to put our best foot forward," said powerhouse winger Aeyesha Leti-I'iga. "I know the girls are all fizzing as well, so it's all excitement.

"I'm not too sure about nerves, but they might kick in tomorrow."

Even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is struggling to contain her excitment. 

"Go and see them, watch the game in person," she said. "Let's break the record again for filling Eden Park and if you can't get a ticket, watch them on the TV.

"Prove that these are athletes that deserve sponsorship, that deserve to be treated in the same way our All Blacks are, becuase they are damn fine sportspeople." 

The tournament has already reached viewership numbers, once never thought possible and organisers expect to kick those into touch tomorrow night.

"We haven't seen a lot of 15s rugby on mainstream TV ever, so the fact it's been on every single weekend and the Black Ferns performance has been incredible, New Zealanders have really connected with that," said tournament director Michell Hooper.

According to Warner Bros Discovery, just over 900-thousand people tuned into watch coverage of the Black Ferns' semi-final last weekend and it's hoped the final will smash through the million-viewer mark on TV.

Theresa Fitzpatrick poses with fans during the World Cup
Theresa Fitzpatrick poses with fans during the World Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

Eden Park will be packed, with a sellout crowd of 40,000 packing the stands. Among them will be a very proud Rob Jones, who coached three players on the field. Black Ferns Sarah Hirini and Georgia Ponsonby, and England prop Amy Cokayne all played under him at Feilding High School.

"They definitely had that spark, they definietly had that world ethic, all three of them," said Jones. "It's a very special time for the school obviously and the families." 

The tournament's already proved a commercial success for New Zealand, with Auckland on track to surpass the target of 27,000 visitor nights and $3.6 million in GDP return.

"That doesn't take into consideration all of the social benefits that major events provide, the global exposure, so it really is more than just the economic benefits as well," said Tātaki Auckland Unlimited head of major events Chris Simpson.

Overall, the tournament has underwritten a $2.3 million dollar. That was always expected and according to organisers, it's a small price to pay for increased exposure of the women's game.

"The success of the tournament's been monumental," said Hooper. "It's an investment in the growth of women's rugby and that investment will pay dividends in the future."

Former Black Ferns prop Regina Sheck, who was part of the first World Cup-winning side in 1998, says it's already an entirely different game.

"The only people that really new about women's rugby back then were our family and friends, and the clubs that we played for," she said.

This tournament will likely set a new benchmark.

"We can't let this go backwards from tomorrow night," said Sheck. "Win or lose, we can't let it go back, because that momentum is there for women's rugby."

This Rugby World Cup has certainly left a lasting impression and a new precedent women's sport.

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us from 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v England final