Prime minister's words read to Briar and team at tournament

Briar Hales, 11, the only girl on the rugby field.

Getting the attention of a kids' sports team is hard, even when you're reading a message sent to them from the prime minister.

And so it proved on Wednesday afternoon when Havelock North Intermediate sport co-ordinator Samantha Newton gathered up the First XV during a break in the annual Super Six rugby tournament with five other intermediate schools.

In the email, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the team, which had agreed to include a girl, Briar Hales, despite being told it would have to forfeit any points for wins.


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Briar Hales, 11, and her team, Havelock North First XV.
Briar Hales, 11, and her team, Havelock North First XV.

"Dear Briar and all the members of the Havelock North Intermediate First XV.

I just wanted to send you a quick note to wish you the best of luck for the Super Six tournament today.

I've read about your story in the paper and your actions really impressed me. I think it's great you've all chosen to play together as a team even though you are forfeiting your points by doing so.

Briar, I know what it's like to be told you can't do something (never in sports though - I was useless at that!) and unfortunately that's a message girls in particular get told too often. I prefer to think that girls can do anything and I'm glad your school and team mates think the same.

All the best for the tournament, and just know that even if you're not successful on the field today, you've already won simply by running on."

 Briar played well at half back.
John Cowpland
Briar played well at half back.

Organisers last week said girls could play each other in a seven-a-side competition. There was equality if the sexes were separate, and there were health and safety issues as "boys can be bigger, stronger, heavier and faster", they said

Any team playing any game in the tournament could field a player of the opposite sex, but points would be forfeited "if that team wins due to having a player from the opposite sex playing for them. The win may have occurred, but for that player assisting the team. This may create an unfair advantage".

As it happened, the team lost all its games, so the issue never arose.They lost to Heretaunga Intermediate 39-0, Tamatea Intermediate 15-12, Hastings Intermediate 35-5, Napier Intermediate 24-10 and Taradale Intermediate 32-26.

They weren't going to play without her.
John Cowpland
They weren't going to play without her.

She might have been the only girl on the rugby field, but the 36kg Briar tackled like a dynamo and cleared the ball from rucks in a manner All Black Aaron Smith would have been proud of.

The 11-year-old sparked debate last week after organisers of tournament told her team it would not get points if it fielded a female player in the tournament. That was despite girls being able to play for their First XV in other fixtures during the year.

Briar's team wanted her play, despite the fact they would have to forfeit any points awarded them.

All games were played in good spirit.
John Cowpland
All games were played in good spirit.

The organisers' decision raised the ire of politicians and sports people across the country. But the day was devoid of any controversy and every game was played in good spirit.

Ultimately everyone wanted what they thought was best for all kids involved. The organisers have said they weren't opposed to making changes to the competition in the future, but it was too late to make changes to the competition now.

Briar played at halfback. She was put under pressure at rucks and mauls but managed to get good clean ball to her backs. She also put in numerous gutsy tackles – always her forte.

Heretaunga Intermediate won the tournament. Havelock North Intermediate, helped by the girls seven-a-side team, which won three, drew one and lost one, came fourth and won the Fair Play Award.

Briar Hales had pulled out of her school's First XV for a tournament that won't allow girls in the rugby teams.