The Chiefs and Blues have announced they will play the first Super Rugby women's game, with the “historic” encounter part of a double header before the Blues’ men host the Chiefs in Super Rugby Aotearoa at Eden Park at 4.35pm on May 1.
Blues Women assistant coach and IRB Hall of Famer Anna Richards said in a statement: “This is super-exciting.
“It is the way forward and it is great to see the CEOs from the Blues and the Chiefs be so supportive and committed in pushing this game.
“Our game has progressed significantly for women in the last four years since that great World Cup in 2017. The girls are now contracted, and this is the next step forward.
“It is a natural progression and the women’s game is ready for it,” said Richards, who played in four Rugby World Cups.
Black Fern captain Eloise Blackwell will lead the Blues. “It is an exciting time for women’s rugby with New Zealand hosting the Rugby World Cup and as a potential pathway towards that level, to have a game between the two Super teams with quite a number of the Black Ferns players is exciting,” she said in a statement.
The Chiefs will have the services of Black Ferns star Chelsea Alley. “The Chiefs have been my favourite rugby team since I was a kid,” she said.
“There’s so much mana and pride in the Chiefs jersey, so to be able to pull one on and represent the franchise as part of the first ever Chiefs women’s team is so special and I’m buzzing about it.”
The match will provide the women's game with a timely boost after the World Cup, which was due to be held in New Zealand later this year, was postponed due to Covid-19.
Women's rugby is the fastest-growing segment of the national sport, with strong rises in participation offsetting declines in male participation.
New Zealand Rugby realises the winds of change are blowing and the Blues v Chiefs game could just be the start of a bigger future for women's Super Rugby.
“We are incredibly excited about this match,” said Blues CEO, Andrew Hore. “It is something both clubs have spoken about for some time now.
“We are really keen to develop a women’s programme for the future.
“We see this as a huge opportunity to kick-start that dream.”
The Chiefs have worked hard to turn their reputation around following an end-of-season incident involving a stripper in 2016, and are chaired by Tonia Cawood, the first female chair in Super Rugby history.
Chiefs CEO Michael Collins said: “Women’s rugby in New Zealand is exceptionally strong and growing exponentially.
“We see Super Women’s Rugby as the next step and felt we should come together to provide this opportunity for all the females playing the game within our region.”
Across the ditch, Rugby Australia is also likely to support the women's game after seeing the success of women's AFL, cricket, league and football in recent years.
That raises the prospect of a women's trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition taking place in the years to come, as rugby seeks new audiences and ways to keep itself relevant in a changing world.