Rugby: First women's Super Rugby game could lead to four-team competition by early next year - former Black Fern

This weekend's inaugural women's Super Rugby encounter will hopefully serve as a stepping stone for a full iteration of the competition in years to come, says former Black Fern-turned Blues assistant coach Anna Richards.

As part of a double-header with the Blues and Chiefs at Eden Park on Saturday, the two respective women's sides will square off in the first encounter of its kind.

A host of Black Ferns stars will take part in the match, with the Blues to be captained by Eloise Blackwell, and the Chiefs by Chelsea Alley.

As a stalwart of women's rugby in New Zealand, former Black Ferns first-five Richards will be involved as the Blues' assistant coach, telling of the process to see Saturday's encounter come to life.

"It's been a while in the making," she says.

"There was a bit of talk about it last year, but COVID put a stop to that. They started discussions in January, probably around a pre-season game to start with, but it was a bit too difficult and impacted a Black Ferns camp.

"We wanted to really promote this game, so we wanted all the best players available - because it is a step-up from the [Farah Palmer Cup]. We want to see more names, more Black Ferns, more high-interest players playing against each other. I think it'll be really good for the girls going forward."

While today's female players are the ones reaping the rewards, Blues captain Blackwell paid tribute to those who'd come before and helped to get the maiden women's Super Rugby game off the ground.

"It's incredible," says Blackwell. "Obviously those past players, the likes of Anna, really paved the way for us - and even in my time in the game, I never imagined that this would actually come to fruition.

"It's a pretty big milestone for us to actually be thinking about running out come Saturday. We do owe it to those old players, the likes of Anna, the former Black Ferns that have come before us. Without their hard work - and now the progression and support we've had in our game - this wouldn't have been able to happen."

While this year's game is just a one-off, Richards adds that the hope is for even more in the future.

A full edition of women's Super Rugby has been mooted, which would see a women's Hurricanes side join the competition, along with a composite team from the Crusaders' and Highlanders' catchments in the South Island.

"Fingers crossed, get a bit of money behind it," Richards adds. "We want it rolled out in January, you can probably see the competition happen at the end of February into March with the four franchise teams. 

"Cross your fingers, it'll be great for it to happen."

Despite the challenges of modern-day professionalism for New Zealand's best women's players, Blackwell is another hoping that Saturday's encounter is the start of something bigger.

"As a player - and if it's a four-team series, five or six weeks out of work for some people - it could actually be quite difficult.

"We need some resources, we need some investment, we need some people backing it so we can actually make it feasible for people to take time off work to be able to perform. 

"We don't want to do a half-effort. We still want players to commit and make sure that the rugby we're throwing out on the field is top-quality, and we've been given time to be able to do that."