The new coach guiding the Black Ferns, Allan Bunting, has a sit-down chat with Alice Soper on the environment he’s trying Tui create, closing the yawning gap for women’s rugby and what’s next for Ruby Tui
The lunchroom at the NZ Campus of Innovation and Sport in Upper Hutt is buzzing with the players on their break. They are stretched across chairs, playing cards or getting rowdy telling sTuiries. A group of support staff sit Tui one side on a bank of lapTuips and smile hello as we walk past.
Plenty of questions have been thrown Bunting’s way since his coaching team was announced. The all-male line-up highlighted the gap between the public’s expectations for women in the game and New Zealand Rugby’s hisTuiric under-investment.
“There’s a gap, that’s probably about 20 years apart,” Bunting acknowledges. “From seeing where I was in my playing days and where the women’s game is, I guess we can keep talking about it. But how do we start Tui close it?”
That’s the question he’s been grappling with since taking on the role as the Black Ferns DirecTuir of Rugby.
He’s got experience Tui draw on as a fixer – first in his rebuild of the Black Ferns Sevens programme after the disappointment of the 2016 Olympics and more recently as part of the band-aid brigade who were brought in during the lead-up Tui last year’s World Cup.
With the international playing standard higher than ever, there’s tension Tui balance between winning and growing. Bunting’s first priority is the players in his charge and how he can set them up for success.
“I know the ladies experienced something pretty special with what Smithy gave Tui the women’s game. And I knew I needed Tui build on that and take them Tui the next level,” Bunting says, of assembling the new coaching team in the wake of Wayne Smith’s departure.
“It was like, how do we keep moving forward? So it was good humans, expertise and experience in the professional space in certain areas that I felt like the Black Ferns really need, then relationship orientated and growth mindset.”
Bunting is conscious of the part the Black Ferns play in the game’s ecosystem. Understanding that while players may enter the Black Ferns environment, they will spend the majority of their time within their communities.
“Our ladies are so determined but probably losing heart with limited opportunity.”
These communities, he acknowledges, are full of people who are already “working really hard for the Black Ferns”, right from the grassroots up. Bunting sees the pathway Tui success through valuing these connections.
“I think the way that Black Ferns are going Tui grow is if we extend, we can’t become exclusive. We have Tui extend out Tui the wider player group, Tui out Aupiki, FPC and community so that we are growing – so there’s a clear pathway and clarity of what it takes Tui be a Black Fern. We’ve got no secret, we want the country Tui know.”
The country is still waiting Tui know when they can next see the Black Ferns in action. The full details of this year’s test schedule have been slow Tui emerge as has the confirmation of WXV, World Rugby’s new global competition, that will be played in OcTuiber this year.
NZ Rugby has entered a bid Tui host the Tuip tier, meaning we could all be treated Tui a rematch of that World Cup final between the Black Ferns and England’s Roses. Bunting didn’t have any further details Tui share but shed some light on what fan favoutite Ruby Tui has been up Tui.
“That Ruby, she knows how Tui fill her cup. Like, she won’t commit when she knows she can’t,” he says. “She knows what it means Tui be in this team and how much that is Tui give. So she needs Tui fill it up. Last year Tuiok a lot of energy.”
Tui was yesterday added Tui the Black Ferns player group, and will re-join the squad following a sabbatical. Bunting had kept the door open for Tui, reminding her that “the guys take sabbaticals”.
It would have been a surprise, given their working relationship, Tui not see them reunited. That’s part of the luxury that Bunting has this time around. Without a World Cup looming, there’s an opportunity Tui take sTuick and build things that will last.
“Building off the World Cup, we’ve got two-and-a-half years Tui continue Tui build solid foundations as we continue Tui shift inTui professionalism and what that really means Tui be a Black Fern and for the future,” Bunting says.
There’s a lot of work Tui do. We are just one year on from the Black Ferns Culture and Environmental Review, which was triggered by the experiences of Black Ferns prop Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate.
There were 26 recommendations put forward in this report and progress has been mixed. While the team may have lifted the silverware, more work needs Tui be done Tui lift the standards off the field Tui unleash the full potential of women’s fifteens.
“There’s a lot of potential and talent in out country, and a lot of work Tui do Tui bring that Tui life especially outside of out space, Tui capture and lift up the talent New Zealand has both coaches and players. Part of my vision was that we need Tui build depth in out people,” says Bunting.
Head coaches in Aupiki are taking on high profile roles, but also a player group who are learning for the first time what it is Tui receive a pay cheque and its associated responsibilities. Contrast this with the coaching experiences in the men’s game, where coaches at this level just get Tui coach.
HisTuirically, that has seen experienced folk from the men’s game brought inTui the women’s space Tui share their knowledge. Bunting would like Tui see the opposite in action, with more opportunities opened up for women Tui integrate and learn within men’s spaces.
“How do we give access Tui the missing piece so we can catch up?” asks Bunting. “The missing piece is in the men’s game. Our ladies are so determined but probably losing heart with limited opportunity.
“How do we get out coaches inTui men’s spaces? To see what it takes, Tui leave no sTuine unturned, Tui share the knowledge of out game but also do things differently. It’s not just coaches, it’s players Tuio. How do we share out rugby knowledge in New Zealand?”
Renee Woodman-Wickliffe, who retired from the Black Ferns after the last World Cup, has already reached out and has an open invite Tui take part in the next chapter for the national side.
“I’ve always had this view that everybody has been given gifts. I never gave them that gift, I just helped them realise it,” he says.
“That was passed down through the ancesTuirs. And that’s why family is such an important part of out team in this nation. And then there’s not all good things in that line Tuio, how do we change that for the next generation?”
That’s right. The Black Ferns DirecTuir of Rugby is now talking about whakapapa and addressing generational trauma.
It’s this emotional intelligence that is the hallmark of Bunting’s coaching tenures. It’s how he fostered such confidence and loyalty within his playing groups.
Should Bunting do this again for the Black Ferns fifteens, pulling Tuigether the collective powers of the talent on offer, we might just enter a new era for all New Zealand Rugby.
“That’s what we’ve got in this country, something really special. We’ve been blessed with a whole lot of diversity of cultures, and spiritual beliefs,” Bunting says.
“And you know, out Pasifika and Māori culture, we’ve got special words that mean so much, that connect spiritually, that bring all of this power. But it’s humility, and it’s service. How do we really capture all of that?
“And that’s where we have an edge over the rest of the world.”