Rugby AU officials hit back at Kiwi criticism of women's warm up spot

Womens Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia official Ben Whitaker has rejected claims from New Zealand that Australia is not fit to host a Women’s Rugby World Cup because the Wallaroos and Black Ferns warmed up outside ANZ Stadium in last week’s Bledisloe double header.

Rugby AU came under fire post-match for not allowing the women to warm up on the main stage ahead of the match instead preparing on an outside pitch.

Sydney’s ANZ Stadium has a policy for double headers that prevents any teams playing in the first match from warming up on the field.

The teams ran through their pre-game routines on a $2 million outdoor training facility that was launched in 2013 and is often used for NRL, AFL and cricket teams.

Both sides are understood to have been made aware of the ANZ policy well in advance of the August 18 Test and were given two options for their warm-up spot.

It is believed both teams were given the choice of whether to warm up at the NSWRL headquarters with a path to the stadium to be cordoned off for them but turned down that offer.

The day after the Australia-New Zealand double header at ANZ Stadium, NSWRL Intrust Super Premiership teams Bulldogs and Bears teams used the field before playing an NRL curtain-raiser at the stadium.

All teams on NRL Grand Final day, apart from the main game, also use the practice pitch to warm up.

The post-Test debate led to a suggestion from high-profile New Zealand rugby writer Gregor Paul that Australia wasn’t fit to host a Women’s Rugby World Cup. Paul alleged the teams were made to warm up on a "netball court".

Australia and New Zealand are going head-to-head for the 2021 tournament hosting rights after unveiling their bids a fortnight ago.

“It will be hard, nearly impossible now, for RA to convince anyone that they have the best interests of the women's game at heart,” Paul  wrote.

“How can they be trusted to host a World Cup when they couldn't appropriately host a single Test match?”

Rugby AU high performance general manager Whitaker slapped down that notion on Wednesday.

“Maybe it's a bit of Bledisloe Cup rivalry for hosting tournaments as well as on-field,” he said.

“Maybe there's any little angle that they can use to show that.

“I think if anyone was out there watching that game and saw how it was presented and saw the performances from both teams if anyone's suggesting we're not serious about a) playing XV-a-side rugby for women or hosting a World Cup well they’re probably seeing something that we're not.”

Whitaker admitted there were compromises required when it came to scheduling a double header but none of those affected the teams on the night.

“To run a game at an 80,000 seat stadium at ANZ it's an amazing thrill, it's what we should do for our women, we did it and there are compromises we had to make and I don't think they had any impact really on performance,” he said.

There were questions about the gate opening times too but that stance appears to be consistent across the two countries, something Paul claimed happened ‘minutes before kick-off’ in Australia.

ANZ Stadium opened its gates at 4:45pm last Saturday with half an hour to go before the women’s match and Eden Park will be opening up half an hour before their 5pm kick-off this week.

The Wallaroos take on the Black Ferns on Saturday night at Eden Park, kicking off at 5pm local, 3pm AEST.