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New look for Wahine Toa

Progress has been rapid over the past 12 months for Wairarapa Wahine Toa, one of the first all-female rugby clubs in New Zealand.

Off the field, they recently became an incorporated society, but the biggest changes will happen on game day.

The team will sport a new strip and play on their own home venue for their second season in the Manawatu women’s premier championship.

Their stunning new uniform, featuring the logo of new sponsors Ucol Te Pukenga [UTP], was unveiled at a blessing and launch event last Saturday. The revamped Solway Showgrounds was this week, revealed as the team’s home venue.

Team manager Brent Gare said the club are absolutely rapt with how the community have gotten behind the club and supported their progress.

“The number of comments that we’ve had from people who you wouldn’t even suspect are anywhere near interested in women’s rugby, let alone rugby, has just been off the charts,” Gare said.

“We started the side on April 9 last year, and already it was gaining quite a bit of traction then, and that was prior to the Rugby World Cup. A lot of people followed our journey last year, and it’s just grown exponentially, and we’ve had a player increase of about 50 per cent, which is huge.”

Gare said the players are over the moon to have their own space at the Solway Showgrounds, a ground stepped in rugby history, having hosted the legendary “Battle of Solway” where Wairarapa beat Hawkes Bay to win the Ranfurly Shield in 1927, as well as hosting many provincial and international teams.

Solway Showgrounds president Tina Nixon said the ground and facilities have undergone significant improvements, including night lights for the four towers and female-friendly home and away changing facilities under the historic grandstand.

“We want this to be an enduring relationship, and our manager Tracey Cooper and Brent Gare have worked together to make it all happen. A true community partnership,” Nixon said.

“We don’t think there will be a women’s team anywhere that has such a magnificent grandstand for supporters, and we are sure the whole community will get behind the Wairarapa Wahine Toa team for their first home match on April 22.”

The collaboration also means the current groundsman will train in turf management, which will benefit other sports, such as equestrian, that use the showgrounds.

The sponsorship deal with UTP Wairarapa also comes with unique benefits, with squad members being offered scholarships to enable them to reach their career and education goals alongside their sporting goals.

UTP Wairarapa director Carrie McKenzie, who played representative rugby for Wellington at a time when sponsorship for the women’s game was very hard to come by, said Wairarapa Wahine Toa stood out as the ideal club to get behind.

“We always had to play in the men’s hand-me-down jerseys, which, if you were a forward, were always too big and not designed for women’s bodies. This was standard as there was very little sponsorship for woman’s rugby, and it was mostly self-funded,” McKenzie said.

“Even in 1996, when we played in the curtain raiser for the very first Super 12 game in Palmerston North, we had to pay for a bus and the motel and wore old jerseys from the men’s teams.”

Perhaps the best response, though, came from two-time World Cup winner and groundbreaking referee, Wairarapa-Bush’s own Rebecca Mahoney in a Facebook post to Gare.

“Amazing. This would have been my absolute dream as a little girl. I know these women will appreciate this and for many generations to come. You have done more in the two years for this club than has ever been done for the women’s game in NZ by any club, and for that, thank you to all of you. There is such a bright future because of you all. Can’t wait to see what other sports might join your club one day.”

Wairarapa Wahine Toa kick off their season on April 15 at Kimbolton against Fielding Old Boys Oroua, followed by three home games over the next three weeks.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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