Support pours in for April

RACHAEL KELLY
Last updated 05:00 25/07/2014
April Miller
RACHEL KELLY/Fairfax NZ
NOT ALLOWED: April Miller has been banned from playing for the Pukerau team in the Southland-wide presidents grade competition.

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Hundreds of New Zealanders, including a former All Black, have thrown their support behind April Miller, who has been banned from playing men's club rugby in Southland.

Rugby Southland vetoed Miller, the only female playing in the Southland-wide club rugby competition, from taking the field, saying it was a New Zealand Rugby Union directive.

The NZRU referred all questions to the Southland Rugby Union, whose general manager, Brian Hopley, said yesterday it had a responsibility to ensure it was doing all it could to look after the welfare of its players and it was following international rugby guidelines.

"It is regrettable that April appears to have been cleared to play in a men's-only competition when, in fact, international guidelines advise mixed-gender teams are not allowed at this level for safety and welfare reasons.

"Rugby Southland sincerely apologises to April for any confusion over this issue but we need to manage the risks on behalf of players and parents for the good of the game," Hopley said.

Mixed-gender teams were not permitted over the age of 15, he said.

With no women's rugby competition in Southland, the 185cm Miller, 18, packed down at lock and No 8 for six games for the Pukerau men's president's grade team in the Southland-wide club competition this season.

Her uncle, former All Black No 8 Paul Miller, said common sense should prevail and she should be allowed to play.

"I think it's a great thing, what she's doing. She went along and they [Pukerau] backed her to play," Miller said.

"Common sense in this case should prevail. If the other team are OK about it, she should play."

He had no concerns for April's safety. "I've seen her play before and she's quite talented.

"Everyone should be allowed to play . . . you don't want to stop people from playing."

Hundreds of others agreed, with a Stuff online news poll yesterday afternoon revealing 523 people [63.5 per cent] saying she should be allowed to play and 300 [36.5 per cent] disagreeing.

Reasons given for her not to play included fears she would be hurt playing against men.

Former Southland women's rugby player Jo Brand also supported Miller. Brand said when she played for the Southland women's team in 1989, it played against the Southland under-18 men's team in practice games.

Men and women could play rugby against each other in a safe manner, Brand said.

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"But you have to be of a certain mettle, it's a completely different thing - very different to women's rugby."

Miller, a former Southland under-18 women's player, said she was annoyed she could not play. "It's quite stupid how they've only said that after I've been in the paper."

Miller's rugby-playing exploits featured in The Southland Times and Newslink last week, with the story also appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald and on the ESPN and BBC websites.

"I got some publicity and now they don't want me to play," Miller said.

"I'm pretty p..... off," said Miller, who was not injured during the season.

Since there was no women's competition in Southland, she was unsure what her next move would be.

She intended to still go to the Pukerau Rugby Club, 13km north of Gore.

"I'm sure they [the rugby union] wouldn't know if I had a sneaky wee game."

Rugby Southland community rugby manager Don McFarlane said he hoped Miller's predicament would encourage more women to play the sport so a competition could be set up in the province - but Miller said she wouldn't be a starter, despite the fact she had played for the Gore High School first XV and the Southland under-18 girls' team.

"I'd rather play for Pukerau than in a women's team. Girls are really catty, they pull hair and stuff and get wee jabs in."

rachael.kelly@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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- The Southland Times

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