Let's lavish our world champions with more competition, attention and, above all, sponsorship.

Calling all corporates: do I have a sponsorship proposition for you? A national team that has just won its fifth world cup; full of characters, heart, and spirit; performs a mean haka, and plays that most sacred of national sports - rugby. The team is, in fact, one of the most successful in New Zealand Rugby's stable, and best of all, you have the opportunity to get in at the ground level, to be a part of the driving force behind a group of phenomenal athletes and to bask in their continued success.

The team I'm talking about is, of course, the Black Ferns.

And before the miserable armchair critics pipe up to whinge about how women's rugby is 'boring' or 'not as good' as the men's, hear me out. I challenge any sports fan to watch the recent final of the Women's World Cup and be bored.


Last Sunday morning I took my place on the couch to watch the delayed broadcast (I'm a millennial - why on earth would I shell out an arm and a liver for Sky?) and found myself riding a wave of anxiety and excitement. In a match between two titans of women's rugby - England and New Zealand - the prognosis didn't look good for us during the first half.

Having no doubt studied our game, England shut down our star players, giving us hardly any room to manoeuvre and very little possession. The last laugh was ours, however, when we exploited the flaws in their plan in the second half and played up the middle. From a half-time score of 17-10 to them to a full-time score of 41-32 to us, it was a thrilling game that left me in happy tears.

But enough of my gushing.

As I watched the game, I felt a deep sense of Kiwi pride, but also a niggling sense of indignation. While the British players were supported by paid contracts (which, it should be noted, apparently concluded at the end of the world cup), our women are technically amateurs - paid when they attend camps and tournaments, but still required to work day jobs.

It's not fair. It's time we as a nation got behind our rugby women. It's time we all stepped up to value them as the national treasures they are. The Black Ferns have won more world cups than the All Blacks. They too deserve to be regarded as heroes.

For once, though, I'm not going to bang on about gender pay equality. As much as I would dearly love for the Black Ferns to be paid as much as the All Blacks are, I'm a realist. We have to start somewhere, and to begin with at least, we'll have to start small. Aim for the stars, but start at the grass roots.

I am by no means an expert, but I have a basic grasp of some of the challenges facing women's rugby. The first is a lack of competition. While the Northern Hemisphere teams play a Six Nations tournament between England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy, no such tournament exists on this side of the world, and even if it did, the Black Ferns would currently smash any of the teams who would participate. If there's one thing that does make for boring rugby, it's an 80-point difference on the scoreboard. Without a tournament, the Black Ferns play significantly fewer tests than their Northern Hemisphere sisters. And when they do play Southern Hemisphere teams, the end score makes for a less than electrifying clash.

Another challenge is media exposure. The fact that the Black Ferns won four world cups with very little fanfare said a lot about the state of reporting on women's sport in New Zealand. While the media has done a much better job this time around, a consistent effort needs to be made by the entire media pack to bring more attention to women's sport.


Related to the issue of media coverage is broadcast support. Between the broadcast commitments of the All Blacks, Super Rugby, the NPC, Heartland Rugby and the rest, women's rugby often gets pushed into terrible time slots or ignored by broadcasters.

Then there's the obvious issue - a lack of sponsorship. It is my great hope that after the amazing successes of the world cup campaign, sponsors who are passionate about women's advancement will be breaking down NZ Rugby's door to sponsor the Black Ferns. Perhaps even the Government could get involved, particularly to support the many great community leaders and role models that emerge from the team.

So where do we start? How do we overcome these challenges?

I know that NZ Rugby wants to start a professional national women's 15s competition, and I think it's a great idea. Starting with a small number of well-matched teams over a short period of time, and marketed well, it could provide an important incubator to grow support. A way for fans to get to know the players better and to follow the journeys of the stars of the future.

As it stands, rugby is already one of the fastest growing of all women's team sports on the planet, so there's no lack of interest. We could even chuck a couple of Aussie teams in there, to stoke the fires of transtasman rivalry.

The tournament would need to be scheduled for the right time of the year - when it's not going to be buried by the men's game - at the right venues and would require the support not only of sponsors, broadcasters and the media, but also of everyday Kiwis. Which I don't honestly think would be a problem. Though there is undoubtedly a vocal minority of negative Nigels, the stars of women's rugby do already have a lot of support.

So come on New Zealand. NZ Rugby can't do this on its own. It's time we all did our bit for our world champion wahine.

I'm behind our rugby heroines. Are you?