Farah Palmer has urged the New Zealand Rugby Union not to drop the ball over the women's game after the Black Ferns' historic fourth World Cup victory.
An emotional Palmer, who captained the Black Ferns to their previous three titles, willed the team home from her lounge room yesterday as they beat England 13-10 in the final in London.
She hoped the victory would ease her concerns over women's rugby in New Zealand after it was one of several areas subjected to budget cuts by the NZRU.
"I hope the NZRU doesn't think, `oh well, they won so we'll just carry on the way we're going'. It's starting to get limited at club level and the NPC has gone," she told The Dominion Post.
"In the next four years I hope they'll start putting some resources back into women's rugby and think about where they're going in the future. There's also the sevens coming up at the Olympics, what are we doing to promote that?"
Palmer stressed that the NZRU hadn't deserted women's rugby – it injected $400,000 into the Ferns' World Cup campaign – but felt the game could be in better health.
It remained strong in Auckland and Christchurch, but women's club teams in other centres were defaulting through lack of numbers and the franchise-based secondary schools competition had also gone, she said. With the NPC now not funded, provinces were arranging matches against each other.
England, meanwhile, were benefiting from a heavy government funding push for women's sport via the Lotteries Commission and had strong age-grade programmes which New Zealand didn't.
Now a senior lecturer in sports management at Massey University, Palmer felt yesterday's win ranked as probably the Ferns' best given their limited preparation.
She said their passion for the game, rugby knowledge from the likes of veteran five-eighth Anna Richards and their skill X-factor proved the difference.
"I was really surprised the Black Ferns managed to put on such a good performance considering there's been very little buildup in terms of international games, there was no NPC this year and budgets have been cut left, right and centre. They've done an amazing job."
The players were all amateurs and only received a daily allowance on tour.
Palmer agreed wing Carla Hohepa was the star of the tournament, and also singled out her former understudy, hooker Fiao'o Faamausili. Captain Melissa Ruscoe led the team brilliantly after receiving a yellow card which reduced them to 13 players.
"They just played out of their skins and kept a level head," Palmer said.
Overall, she said rivals England were catching up with New Zealand, but was disappointed to see the likes of Australia and France fall off the pace.
Brent Anderson, the NZRU's general manager of community and provincial union rugby, said the budgets were still being worked through for next year.
He said boosting player numbers in schools and building towards the debut of women's sevens at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was a priority.
"Having the Black Ferns as world champions and allowing us to use that in the secondary schools, which is where a lot of them start playing, is certainly something we're looking to do," he said.
"We've got the opportunity this creates, and the opportunity created by having sevens as an Olympic sport, to really try and boost women's rugby."
The Ferns fly into Auckland around lunchtime tomorrow.
- © Fairfax NZ News