Women's rugby has taken a new direction in New Zealand and our region's college girls are at the forefront of that movement, says Tasman Rugby Union operations manager Mike Kerrisk.
Kerrisk said women's' rugby in New Zealand had "hit a brick wall" in terms of what to achieve next, after winning the past four Rugby World Cups in the traditional 15s game. Now, with the inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympic programme, the goalposts had been moved and there had been a new challenge laid down.
"The ultimate goal for women's rugby is now the 2016 Olympics, in the sevens – gold medal," Kerrisk said. "From an NZRU point of view, they seem to be putting a lot of time and resources into the sevens side of women's rugby and honestly believe that is the better pathway."
As with all instances of change in rugby, it had met with a fair amount of trepidation, Kerrisk said. "A lot of people have accused the NZRU and some of the provincial unions who have come on board, like us, of taking a step backwards. But it is a very calculated step backwards to take two or three steps forward.
"We see rugby sevens as being the ideal, natural pathway in our women's game now."
With the focus shifted to the shortened version of the game, Nelson's secondary schools girls competition has taken a coincidental step in the right direction. Shifting from a full 15-a-side game to 10-a-side for the first time this season, the new 10-girl game with two 20 minute halves and rolling subs has had rave reviews from players.
The captain of the unbeaten Nelson College for Girls team, Charna Thompson, said her side was relishing the newfound space and pace. "I love the game, it's a lot faster. You have to be more fit but it's more of a challenge. You get to run with the ball more and have the chance to make more breaks. I love it."
Charna, who also plays for the Waimea Old Boys team in the senior women's grade, said she would love to continue and progress in her sport, but wasn't sure Nelson was the right place for that.
"I hope to play rugby at a higher level but you don't get many opportunities in Nelson."
A 15s player who wanted to make a provincial team would have to look outside the region. Kerrisk said having a 15-a-side Tasman women's rugby team, a female Makos, was not attainable because of the cost. That was where the game of sevens had an advantage, especially in smaller unions.
"That's why as a union we are concentrating on the sevens aspect. There tends to be more opportunity, the campaigns are shorter and financially it is more viable for us.
"So if these girls are looking for higher-level competition, it's all about the sevens."
Kerrisk said he had weekends of sevens rugby planned for the region. Invitations would go out to high schools and clubs to be involved in a round-robin competition held over a few weeks.
"The purpose of that is so I can see some of these girls playing sevens and look at getting them into the Go4Gold Olympic Sevens campaign and get them into a Tasman sevens squad playing in the regional competitions in front of national selectors."
Kerrisk, who is also a talent scout for the NZRU in his role as women's rugby resource coach, said the Tasman region had some players to keep an eye on. But the point was that the stepping stone for higher honours now had a new vehicle.
"There is an absolute pathway for some of these girls and that is the code of sevens."