A Buller woman has become the first woman to head a rugby board in New Zealand.

Lawyer Jane Duncan, 33, has been on the Buller Rugby Union (BRU) board for two years.

She said her gender wasn't the reason for her appointment to the chair. "It's not because Buller wanted to make history. It's not a token position ...

"It's about having the right skills around the table."

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Duncan said the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) focused on diversity, but simply putting different people around a board table didn't create it.

Her role as chairwoman would be "a huge learning curve".

"But I'm up for the challenge."

Job losses in Buller meant senior club numbers had dwindled to just four teams, resulting in less support.

"Fewer players, less financial support, fewer volunteers."

Duncan, who replaces former BRU chairman John Lennon, is a director of Westport firm Stevens Orchard Lawyers.

She studied criminology at Wellington's Victoria University, gaining a double degree.

Her own sporting background includes competing at a representative level in both athletics and netball while at Sacred Heart Wanganui Collegiate.

Her husband, Glen Duncan, played rugby for Buller last year and his brother Andrew is BRU's rugby development officer.

The couple own a lifestyle block near Westport.

Duncan's appointment as BRU chair follows the election of a female board member to the NZRU board. Farah Palmer breaks an all-male reign of 124 years.

The NZRU had not responded by today's publication deadline to a request for comment on Mrs Duncan's appointment.

- Westport News