Hype ahead of Rugby World Cup 2021 reached fever pitch as over 30,000 fans descended on Eden Park to see the Black Ferns over the weekend.
A triple header opened the tournament, including a 7.15pm showdown between the Black Ferns and Wallaroos. Ticket sales had already exceeded 35,000 on the Friday prior to the game, ensuring its place as the world’s most attended women’s rugby match.
The previous largest crowd for a women’s rugby match was in France when 20,000 watched England beat Canada at the Rugby World Cup 2014 final. It also eclipsed the largest Kiwi crowd for any women’s sporting event – 16,000 for the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup final between North Korea and USA.
The spotlight is well and truly on women’s rugby right now, with Super Rugby Aupiki last week also confirming the draw for the 2023 season.
There’s plenty to sing about in Christchurch, with a decent chunk of the Black Ferns side made up of players who play their Super Rugby Aupiki trade with Matatū – the South Island’s only team in the competition who assemble in Christchurch to begin training in early 2023.
On top of this, former Crusaders coach Wayne Smith is Head Coach of the Black Ferns, and Whitney Hansen, Matatū’s assistant coach for the 2022 season, is alongside him with Wesley Clarke.
Mark Robinson, New Zealand Rugby CEO, said there was “no questioning [Smith’s] calibre as a coach” and Hansen was “a coach with a big future”.
Michelle Hooper, Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director said the number of tickets sold so far was “testament to our people and their support for this vision”.
“...and also the very special manaakitanga within our sporting community here in Aotearoa,” Hooper said.
“We’re breaking new ground with this tournament...[it’s going to be] a moment all New Zealanders can be proud of.”