Briar Hales took to the field as halfback for Havelock North Intermediate's 1st XV, knowing all eyes were on her.

It was the start of a Super Six rugby tournament on Wednesday that she knew she couldn't win.

But she knew she could make a statement. And with the backing of the Prime Minister, she did.

"I've got a big smile on my face," she told Hawke's Bay Today after leaving the field in what eventually was a 34-0 loss to Heretaunga Intermediate, who eventually won the tournament.

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"Thanks to Dad and my team."

Briar, 11, is the only girl in the team. Her inclusion in the tournament team set off a firestorm last week, when opposing principals and organisers told Havelock North Intermediate her selection contravened Super Six rules.

Briar Hales enjoys the backing of her Havelock North Intermediate School 1st XV rugby team during the Super Six competition. Photo / Warren Buckland.
Briar Hales enjoys the backing of her Havelock North Intermediate School 1st XV rugby team during the Super Six competition. Photo / Warren Buckland.

Her team decided to play on with a girl in their team at the tournament, and forfeit their points as a result.

An email from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was read out to the team ahead of the game, in which she wished her the "best of luck", and said she was impressed by the team's decision to play together even though they would forfeit the points.

"Briar, I know what it's like to be told you can't do something (never in sports though - I was useless at that!) and unfortunately that's a message girls in particular get told too often. I prefer to think that girls can do anything and I'm glad your school and team mates think the same," Ardern wrote.

"All the best for the tournament, and just know that even if you're not successful on the field today, you've already won simply by running on."

Briar didn't disappoint - nipping around the rucks with great pace and feeding the backs, despite pressure from a well-drilled Heretaunga.

Bystanders noted her confidence on the field and spoke about her skills matching those of her teammates.

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"She uses her size really well. She's not afraid to get involved."

Briar, who was subbed at half-time, said she was grateful to her team.

"We tried our best, we got involved, and did really well. It is really kind of them to let me play. They really wanted me to play.

"I like playing with them."

Briar gets stuck in. Photo / Warren Buckland
Briar gets stuck in. Photo / Warren Buckland

Her teammates, too, told Hawke's Bay Today they were pleased with her performance.

"It's just fair that everyone gets to play. Everyone gets a chance to play in rugby," Briarne Taylor said.

"We like playing with her, she is good. The other schools are too scared to play against her."

She had four more games following the one against Heretaunga Intermediate School.

Briar's participation attracted the support of All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder on Twitter, which she was chuffed about.

Her father Dean said she had met Nehe once at a touch tournament few years back.

"He signed her boot.

"She's really happy he backs her, he's awesome."

The sports competition, in which Hales participated, is played between six Hawke's Bay Intermediate Schools - Havelock North, Hastings, Heretaunga, Napier, Tamatea and Taradale.

It is called Super Six and played throughout the year where the schools compete for a shield at each of the sports – the shield winner is the school with the most wins on the tournament day.

Earlier last week Heretaunga Intermediate School principal Michael Sisam said the Super Six was intended to promote maximum participation.

"Girls play sevens, boys play fifteens," Sisam said.

Briar Hales playing for Havelock North Intermediate against Heretaunga Intermediate. Photo / Warren Buckland
Briar Hales playing for Havelock North Intermediate against Heretaunga Intermediate. Photo / Warren Buckland

"The current structures state that girls play in girls' tournaments and boys play in the boys' tournaments."

Taradale Intermediate principal Rex Wilson said the "structure" was there for a reason and would not be changed when the competition was already under way.

"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.

Briar plays halfback for her Havelock North Intermediate Super Six team. Photo / Warren Buckland
Briar plays halfback for her Havelock North Intermediate Super Six team. Photo / Warren Buckland

"We have found [in the past] if it is a mixed-gender, boys will dominate.

"The rules of the competition were established last year and it is up to the integrity of the people participating to maintain them."

Sisam said the schools were not opposed to making changes, but not until 2020.