There’s excitement in the camp as the Port Taranaki women’s rugby team prepares to end four years in the sporting wilderness and returns to the national stage.
The Port Taranaki Whio begin their Farah Palmer Cup national provincial championship campaign against Tasman, in Motueka, tomorrow afternoon, and new coach Matt Stone says the players are eager to get out on the park and pit themselves against some of the best in the country.
“The team are really excited. As one of the senior girls said ‘we asked for this’, so they are really proud to be representing Taranaki and are up for the challenge,” he said.
The Port Taranaki Whio are a mix of senior players who had a taste of national championship rugby back in 2013, and younger players who have come up through the grades, including the Taranaki under-18 team, which Stone coached last year.
“It’s good to have that connection with a number of the players,” said Stone, who was also in charge of the Spotswood United men’s premier team this year. “The players are keen to learn and motivated to improve, which is great.”
The Port Taranaki Whio are in the championship division of the Farah Palmer Cup, and will take on Tasman, North Harbour, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty, Otago and Wellington during the seven-week competition.
“There’s an understanding that it will be hard this year as every other team in the competition has had at least one year together, but we are still targeting wins – particularly our first three games,” Stone said.
“We want to cement our place in the competition and aim to eventually play in the premiership division.”
He said the team had strengths right across the 27-strong squad – powerful forwards who are effective at keeping it tight, quick outside backs who have learned their trade through sevens, and skilful inside backs who are adept at making space for their outsides.
“The level’s going to be higher than what they’ve played before so we’ve been concentrating on playing to a structure and putting systems in place, as holding onto the ball for long periods will be important.”
Port Taranaki has signed on as naming rights sponsor of the Port Taranaki Whio for the next two seasons, and Stone said the support had given the team a great boost.
“It’s massive. We’ve talked about it at training and it really means a lot to the girls. It assists with resources and accessibility, and legitimises what we are doing – it shows we are valued.”
Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper said he was thrilled Taranaki was back playing top-level women’s rugby and he was looking forward to following the team’s progress during the season.
“We’re a proud rugby province in Taranaki so it’s only right that we have a women’s team involved nationally. We’re really pleased to be supporting them,” he said.
“We saw a fantastic Port Taranaki girls’ secondary schools competition final a couple of weeks ago, so women’s rugby in the province is going ahead in leaps and bounds, and the Whio are at the forefront of that.
“We wish the Port Taranaki Whio all the best for the season and I encourage the Taranaki community to get out and support the team at each home game.”
Footnote: The whio, or blue duck, is a threatened species found only in New Zealand. DOC, the Central North Island Blue Duck Trust and Whio Forever have been working hard to build numbers in the Taranaki region, including releasing another 10 whio onto rivers early this year. Taranaki Mounga – a collaborative pest eradication and ecological restoration project, which Port Taranaki is involved in – aims to increase whio numbers to a secure, viable population within 10 years.
Port Taranaki Whio draw
1 September, v Tasman, Motueka, 2.35pm
8 September, v North Harbour, TET Stadium, Inglewood, 2pm
15 September, v Hawke’s Bay, TET Stadium, Inglewood, 2.30pm
21 September, v Bay of Plenty, Rotorua International Stadium, 5.05pm (TV)
29 September, v Otago, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, 2.35pm (TV)
6 October, v Wellington, Porirua Park, 1pm