Jane Duncan has made history as the first woman to chair a provincial rugby union.

The 33-year-old Westport lawyer and new Buller boss also owns another milestone - the first provincial chairperson whose husband plays for the representative team.

If we've got our maths right, Buller is so small that the team's home ground can fit the entire population of the rugby catchment area. But tiny Buller rugby has become a potential trailblazer.

Duncan chats to the Herald on Sunday about heading New Zealand's smallest union.


You've broken through the glass ceiling ... and gained record publicity for Buller rugby.

I've been surprised. I thought we might get a little bit of coverage, but not to this extent. It is changing times for women in New Zealand, especially in sport, but I really don't think this should come as a surprise.

Maybe it's because rugby has a reputation for being male, pale and stale ... I certainly never felt that way about rugby but there is increased awareness about women putting themselves forward for governance roles.

Perhaps we lack a bit of confidence, to believe in ourselves. The Buller union has had women on its board for a number of years.

Your catchment area's population is...

I think six or seven years ago, we looked at Buller and northern Buller and we had about 6000. We've had a huge loss of residents, a loss of jobs. We're somewhere around 4000. We have four senior teams but more at junior level. We're pretty bloody resilient.

We've been through tough times, but I don't want to harp on about that. As a union, we achieve remarkable things and our Heartland team punches well above its weight. We were in the final of the Meads Cup for the second time last year and have been in five (Heartland) finals overall ... our junior grades have achieved great things, especially the under-12s and 14s.

There is a northern Buller? Moving on ... how does the union fare financially?
We're in good financial heart, we've got an exceptional team behind us. We just sort of carry on. We certainly strive to make a profit - we have, but I can't tell you what our reserves are.

You are from Whanganui ...

Yes, I'm a North Island girl, like any typical Kiwi kid growing up on a rural property. There was Saturday night rugby, the All Blacks, NPC as it was back then ... we followed the Wanganui team before the whole Heartland thing came about.

Rugby has been a part of my life. I had some representative experience but not in rugby. I was a rep at secondary school level in athletics and cross-country, and netball, although I was plagued by injury at that, so it wasn't very successful. I did the ACL in my left knee as a 14-year-old, there was re-injury after re-injury and I had it reconstructed at 18.

What is your first big task?

There is not one overriding thing. But we need to make rugby attractive again, so people want to play and be involved. We have to turn it around. And the Heartland tournament is brilliant. It has done wonders to invigorate the third tier.

I certainly know that it does a huge amount for the morale of our community. When we play away, everyone wants to try to listen if we can get a live feed. It's a great way of showcasing your region. I've got an awful lot of reading to do, to get up to speed.

There is a huge amount of emails, documentation, communication from New Zealand Rugby and the Crusaders, lots of work to do. I'm passionate about this, so you find the time.

Who is Buller's biggest rival?

For me, personally? Wanganui. I've got to support Buller then - my husband (hooker Glen, who manages a transport company) is in the team.

He hopes to be again this year. He could have a long way to go. Our players go on here - (loose forward) Luke Brownlee has played 168 games in succession, (prop) Phil Beveridge is aged 43.

How does Glen feel about your rise to the top?

He's very supportive. The reaction around town has been amazingly supportive. I've got very little work done today, and received hundreds of emails.

But we are a very supportive community. I moved here for work, to get broader experience, but it was a very good move. It astounded me when I first got here just how friendly and warm everyone is. It is one of the keys to our success.