Holbeck: World Rugby missed chance with girls

by James Holbeck

World Rugby will announce its annual award winners this weekend, but there’s one glaring omission in the nominees that have been announced in recent weeks.

New Zealand, Fiji Sevens and England made the cut for the Team of the Year, but the gold medal-winning and World Series champion Australian Women’s Sevens did not make the cut.

The All Blacks with their recent record of 18 straight wins should be favourite for the award despite the incredible Irish upset on the weekend in Chicago.

Dylan Hartley captained England to a 3-0 series win against Australia in June. Photo: Getty ImagesEngland, too, have had a monumental season winning the Six Nations and then whitewashing 2015 World Cup finalists, Australia a remarkable turnaround for a team knocked out of its own World Cup in the pool stages just a year ago.

It is difficult to compare the two XVs sides with the Australian Women’s Sevens side but their male counterparts, the Olympic champion Fiji side is the final team in the mix and on almost every level the Aussies have matched them.

One of the highlights of the rugby season was the incredible manner in which the Fijians carried themselves after their Olympic win, the country’s first ever Olympic medal, kneeling in front of Princess Anne to receive their gold medals, in an act of respect, social media was divided between being deeply moved by the act of humility and disgusted that people in this day and age would bow before anyone.

In an age of self-entitlement and egoism I found it refreshing to see World Champions not needing to beat their chests in victory but honouring the Royal’s position with reverence and respect. Rugby has some wonderful traditions that are worth maintaining and respect, however it is culturally displayed, is certainly one that we need to hold onto.

The All Blacks dominated the Rugby Championship. Photo: Getty ImagesEven NZ Herald journalist Chris Rattue in the past week felt that for the ‘romantic’ factor, the award should be given to the Fijians, adding that there would be plenty of time to honour the All Blacks.

This shortlist is an opportunity missed by World Rugby, who had an opening to show the value of the women’s game by recognising the only other rugby gold medallist, the first women’s winners in history.

What standard should be used for the award of best team? Does the voting committee look purely at wins and losses, do they look at the standard of competition over the year and further, how do they compare performances across formats of the game or gendered competitions? Do they indeed include sentimental aspects to their selection?

Rather than simply wave the virtue signalling flag of diversity, as seems all the rage in society, let’s take a more pragmatic look at how the Australian women’s team performance compares with the Fijian men’s side.

A superior winning rate across matches and tournaments compared to Fiji’s should alone put them in the final nominees, but that’s just the beginning.

Fiji have won their first ever Olympic medal. Photo: AFPIn the sentimentality stakes, Fiji might just have them covered but these women have changed the way rugby is perceived in Australia this year and became the first team outside New Zealand to win the women’s World Series and the first Rugby Sevens Olympic winners.

All of these elements really beg the question - what else would these women have to do to be considered for the highest team honour?

Charlotte Caslick is the only Australian in the running for an award on Sunday, for Women’s Sevens Player of the Year and given her skills and success, would surely be the frontrunner.

The Aussie Sevens have learned from their USA shock. Photo: AFPWith the women’s game being the fastest growing women’s sport in the world both Caslick and the other members of the Australian squad, even if they did not make the final cut for Team of the Year, can take a bow for their mighty performances this year, the manner in which they represented their country and the contribution as empowered role-models for the game.

Whoever eventually wins Team of the Year will be worthy recipients and external recognition of this sense wouldn’t worry the Aussies, but that they’re not in the final mix is a missed chance for rugby.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.