New RDO part of big development drive for women's rugby in Tasman region
Tasman women's rugby is receiving a major face-lift which will see a Tasman representative team finally competing in this year's national women's provincial championship.
Assisting the process has been the appointment of a new Tasman women's rugby development officer, George Vance, with Canterbury's Black Ferns halfback, Kendra Cocksedge, also a key part of the programme.
Christchurch-based Cocksedge is the women's rugby development co-ordinator for the Crusaders region and has been regularly travelling to Nelson over the past year helping to promote and develop the women's game in the region.
Now 28, Cocksedge debuted for the Black Ferns aged 19 and with 29 caps is now the most experienced member of the Black Ferns backline. She is also a skilled sevens player and was part of the squad that won the inaugural Women's Sevens World Series in 2013. She was named the 2015 World Rugby women's player of the year and is targeting this year's World Cup in Ireland in August.
The growth of women's rugby in the region will ultimately see a Tasman women's team competing in this year's Farah Palmer Cup women's national provincial championship.
Tasman's competitions and operations manager, Steve Mitchell, said that the women's game had developed considerably over the past few seasons, involving a substantial culture change and largely based around the success of the Motueka High School girls' team.
"The changes in the [Tasman] programme have created more depth, more talent and more capability," Mitchell said.
"We're trying to create a pathway from a six-year-old girl to a Black Fern."
The plan is to develop more depth throughout the younger age groups to ultimately provide a realistic pathway for Tasman players to aspire to national selection.
It's already proved successful with Jess Drummond's selection last year in the New Zealand women's sevens team and her inclusion, alongside Motueka HS star, Risi Pouri-Lane, in the Black Ferns development squad.
Cocksedge said she tries to head north every six weeks "for three or four days" to assist with Tasman's development.
"There's a lot of talent among the girls up here, they're there and they want to play, it's just giving them that last little step to show then that pathway for these girls to go through," Cocksedge said.
"Once the girls see a pathway created, then they're more likely to stay involved in the game."
She said that the success of the New Zealand women's sevens team was an obvious incentive for young girls to stay involved in the sport.
Originally from Wellington, 24-year-old Vance arrives in Nelson with a physical education degree in sport and leisure studies from Otago University, having represented both Wellington and Otago as a halfback at age-group level.
The nephew of former Wellington and New Zealand opening batsman Bert Vance, his playing career's currently on hold though as he prepares to immerse himself in his new role which officially started this week.
"For the female game, it's just about the delivery and building that skill base and just building depth at that lower level," Vance said.
He said he was excited about getting involved in what was essentially "a blank canvas" in terms of a relatively new concept for Tasman rugby.
Tasman executive director Tony Lewis said that one of the key parts of Vance's job will be driving the administration of the Tasman women's team
"The other key part is that, if we're going to have a sustainable team, then we need to grow [the game] from the grass roots," Lewis said.
"We have a number of girls who want the opportunity to play at that next level. We believe that when girls from other sports see that they can play rugby at this next level and actually cost them nothing ... we'll get some great talent coming through.
"We've got to give those girls that ambition and we've got to go for it."
Lewis said it would cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to have a women's team involved in the national competition.