Rugby: Shifting attitudes towards rainbow community lead to hopes of first gay All Black

It's been a big and progressive week for the rainbow community in sport.

First, New Zealand Rugby announced it's signed up to the Pride Pledge, and then professional footballer Jake Daniels publicly announced he's gay, ending decades of silence in the UK.   

And for New Zealand's premier gay rugby side, the shifts in the attitude towards the LGBT+ community in sport is a welcome one.

The New Zealand Falcons, by their own admission, aren't the best rugby team. But they are playing - and with pride.

Blackpool striker Jake Daniels came out as gay last week.
Blackpool striker Jake Daniels came out as gay last week. Photo credit: Image - Sky Sports UK

"On the field it doesn't matter what you identify as, it's just a game," said Falcons player Sofaro Alono 

The Falcons are made up of mainly gay and trans players, new to the game.

Among them is Kane Weatherup, who longed to play rugby as a child but couldn't find the appropriate team.

"I wasn't out so I couldn't play with the boys team and it didn't feel right playing on the girls team," Weatherup told Newshub. 

"So when I came here I heard they were an inclusive team, and everything kinda clicked for me and I thought 'this is where I need to be'. 

"I have just had a lot of fun since then."

And the Falcons now get a lot of support, especially from opposition players - yes, straight and staunch rugby men, young and old. But this wasn't always the case.

"Certainly back in the day, before my time, they encountered some questionable attitudes," coach Joe Barton said. 

"But the one thing I am realising, as seasons go on, is how much more embracing the other teams are."

And in a move that's meant a lot to these players, New Zealand Rugby has just signed up to the Pride Pledge, a commitment by employers to welcome and support rainbow communities. 

"Growing up I never thought I would play rugby," Falcons player Shaun Rush said. "I never knew a gay rugby player. 

"I thought there was this toxic masculinity about rugby which stopped me from wanting to play. So having the backing of the rugby union and all blacks, I hope it inspires gay people to play rugby."

But an All Black has never publicly come out as gay - like UK professional footballer Jake Daniels did this week.

The Falcons believe it will happen here. And soon.

"I think it will be a pretty big deal in Aotearoa to have the first gay All Black," added Alono added. "I think we are close."

It should be noted there are openly gay women in the Black Ferns, and one day Petra Ong could join them. She's just signed up to be a Falcon - and is the sole female. And loving it.

"It's taught me to challenge myself and get me out of my comfort zone, as I have never played rugby before," she said.

The Falcons say their door is always open to new players, there's no judgement, just a handshake, hug, and welcome cheer. 

"You know I'm really proud of where we are going as a society," said player Dan Lloyd. "There's still a road to go down but I'm really pleased with the progress we have made as a nation towards a diverse and inclusive environment."

And that's a win for this team.