We recently talked with Chad Shepherd, head coach of the Heat to catch up on his new role and find out his views on how women’s rugby is shaping up in the region.
How is women’s rugby shaping up in the region and in general?
"There is a lot of talent and athletes within the region which is exciting but the key is fostering the talent. We have some really exciting schoolgirl rugby talent emerging from U16 to secondary schoolgirls and the key there is to educate the players around the pathway to higher honours whether it be Counties Manukau Heat, Black Ferns 7’s or Black Ferns XV’s".
"It is great to see the growth in Women’s rugby in the province with club teams such as Patumahoe and Drury getting great numbers along to trainings which is translating into performance on Saturdays, as well as Papakura performing well in the Development XV competition. Manurewa has been going well throughout the season and currently sit third in the Auckland competition. Ardmore Marist have some exciting players and on their day can beat most teams, but unfortunately consistency around player availability has really restricted their game day performance which is unfortunate".
So, how have the last two months been for you?
"The last two months have been great, mainly around getting out and observing club trainings and games for talent ID, building relationships and reintegrating back into the rugby community having been gone from the region for a little while. Also around tapping into the wealth of knowledge amongst the coaching and management team within the union".
What are the challenges that you have faced so far?
"The biggest challenge has been around getting all the players into one space at one time for trainings. A lot of the players have other commitments with work, school, family etc but its about getting the buy in that we need to prioritise and put in the work now in order for the season to be successful. We have a great group that are training consistently but it’s about collective accountability and consistency".
What’s on the horizons for women’s rugby?
"NZRU have made a substantial investment in the growth of women’s rugby and with the Women’s Rugby World Cup to be hosted in NZ for 2021 there are huge incentives for the players. There is also the Olympics coming up next year for the Black Ferns 7’s so from 2020 there will be a focus on development for the next Olympic cycle for 2024 which provides opportunities for aspiring players".
"The pathway and opportunities created by the current investment are as good if not better than in the men’s game. It’s now around educating the players around the opportunities and pathways available to them. The exciting thing is that we really are at the start of the process, with talk around a semi professional Women’s FPC competition in the pipeline. It is an exciting time for the players in the women’s space, so it’s really about the players making the most of the opportunities available".