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by Chris Tobin

As women’s rugby numbers explode, administrators are battling to keep up with one urgent issue – the need for women’s changing rooms and showers, or as they are now termed, unisex facilities.

South Canterbury’s rugby headquarters, Alpine Energy Stadium, is one of many such parks around the country which has no separate facilities for women.

When both men and women are playing at the park it can be difficult.

“This is a 1960s complex,” union chief executive Craig Calder said of the stadium.

“We’ve only got one shower block. When we have mixed tournaments it becomes an embarrassment.

“The growth of women’s rugby has stunned us. We’ve got to get unisex facilities.”

This will soon happen as part of the union’s major $3.6million redevelopment of Alpine Energy Stadium.

Nationally this season there are 27,838 female players registered, a 14.6% increase on last year.

A bit of mud . . . Players from Craighead Diocesan and Ash/Hutt teams competed in rather muddy conditions at Alpine Energy Stadium during the secondary school girls Aoraki rugby final on Wednesday. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

Last year the South Canterbury union had 43% growth in player numbers and the total rose another 11% this year.

“Our growth has been the result of Caro’s work [Caro Rhodes, women’s development officer],” Mr Calder said

This season a five-team women’s competition was held, along with a secondary schools’ competition involving Craighead, Timaru Girls’ High School, Roncalli, Geraldine High and Mt Hutt-Ashburton College Combined.

Craighead won a mud-splattered final against Mt Hutt-Ashburton College at Alpine Energy Stadium.

“The Craighead girls had a training against Timaru Boys’ High School under-16 boys; they enjoyed that,” Ms Rhodes said.

“This year we’ve also had an under-11 grade with four teams – Timaru South, Waimataitai, Pleasant Point and Temuka.

“Next year there’ll be an under-11, under-13, under-15 and under-18. It’s played 10-a-side; it’s only 15s at under-18s.”

“We work closely with Christchurch. Kendra Cocksedge, a current Black Fern and one of the contracted players, has been here. She’s a good role model.”

Mr Calder said the union and the older (male) brigade were fully supportive.

“From the South Canterbury Rugby Union point of view, to see the growth and passion from the girls to play rugby has been quite an eye-opener.

“The girls have got the same level of commitment as the first XV boys and the same passion for the game.”

Ms Rhodes said a lot of girls were growing up in a feminised world and with rugby they were not just playing sport but also acquiring life skills.

“Having male role models with coaches is a big part of the experience for girls.”

Fun – not winning – playing with different ages and levels and coaching were all things which attracted girls to the sport but parents were often worried at the outset because of the physical contact and risk of injury.

“Lots of mothers are very concerned. I was the same, but then you see what your child gets out of the sport,” Ms Rhodes said.

“We have the proper training and there’s lots of training and support.”

Mr Calder and Ms Rhodes both expect even more growth.

“We’ll build but not at a rapid level,” Mr Calder said.

“The dream is to have a full South Canterbury team play in a bigger competition as an open-grade side. Our first step is to go to Christchurch for the Farah Palmer Cup [the leading competition for women’s provincial rugby]. The hardest job for a small union is to retain the girls because they go to the bigger centres.”

Ms Rhodes has found the South Canterbury union extremely supportive.

“The goal now is to keep growing and to keep it fun. I don’t want them to play one year and drop off.”