New Zealand rugby player of the year Kendra Cocksedge has slammed the exclusion of 11-year-old Briar Hale from playing with the boys in a Hawke's Bay rugby tournament.
Hales, a Year 7 Havelock North Intermediate student, pulled out of her team yesterday after five opposition school principals were against her playing with the boys.
The disapproving principles went as far to say that if she competed in the upcoming tournament, her team would not be awarded any points.
But Cocksedge, who was annoyed to read that Hales had been excluded because of her gender, believed the call was wrong.
Crediting much of her rugby success to having played with boys growing up, Cocksedge told Stuff the exclusion was "pretty rough" and hoped that the call wouldn't put Hales off her rugby dreams.
"I am a little bit gutted for her actually. I grew up playing with the boys and I think it is an opportunity for her to be able to play," Cocksedge, who was a member of the Black Ferns' 2010 and 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup winning squads, told Stuff.
"Looking at the footage of her skills it looks like she's got some great skills and she is capable to be able to play.
"I think at the end of the day she should just be given the opportunity to be able to play. It's a tough one and I just hope that she looks forward and it doesn't put her off her game.
"Rugby is for everyone and we just want her to play."
Hawkes Bay Rugby CEO Jay Campbell said that while Hale's exclusion was not the preferred approach, there was little the governing body could do to change the way in which schools chose to run their competitions.
"Hawke's Bay Rugby's policy is that very clear, that rugby is a game is for everyone and both males and females can play together in mixed gender grades up to Under 13 level," Campbell said in a statement to the Herald.
"While it would be fantastic if all tournaments aligned with our policy, we respect the decision of the schools which I am sure they are making for what they perceive to be in the best interests of the tournament.
"While not our preferred approach, having a female only sevens competition at the super 6 tournament, will hopefully expose many young girls to rugby for the first time and this is an exciting element for tournaments such as these.
"My hope is this unfortunate experience doesn't put Briar off wanting to continue playing and enjoying her rugby."
Despite the nationwide backlash and fury that resonated as far as the halls of the Beehive on Wednesday, organisers of the event have dug their heels in.
A statement issued by the organisers yesterday said the call was made partly over health and safety issues as "boys can be bigger, stronger, heavier and faster".
"By allowing students of one sex to play in a team of another sex for these one-off tournaments sets a precedence [sic] that could see boys who play in a mixed netball/hockey team play for their school's girls' netball/hockey team [at the tournament] or vice-versa.
"It could remove the need for separate sports, therefore meaning less students able to play," the statement said.
Taradale Intermediate principal Rex Wilson said the "structure" was there for a reason and would not be changed when the competition was already underway.
"The structure of the competition was organised not for any individual student, but the majority.
"It is a gender-based structure to enable maximum participation, especially from girls.
"We have found [in the past] if it is a mixed-gender, boys will dominate."