New Zealand won the Pacific Four Series under a new male-dominated coaching team led by Wayne Smith. But should they have appointed female coaches? Read this debate


Face-off: Did the Black Ferns make the right coaching appointments?

YES, says the World Cup-winning centre and Wasps Women’s DoR

New Zealand is a proud nation, a rugby nation, and they have won the World Cup more than anyone else in the women’s game. They had a shocker here last year, losing heavily to England and France, and there are now less than six months before the World Cup, so they needed to do something quick, dynamic and powerful. It’s not just about parachuting in a big name but the right big name who can solve the problems.

Wayne Smith (new DoR) has immense knowledge of how to coach, he understands rugby and people. He makes the complex really simple and understandable so that athletes can progress quickly, and he’s a brilliant man-manager.

He’ll give the Black Ferns identity and passion and he’ll have their immediate respect, as will Graham Henry, who has run elite performance programmes and won a World Cup too. They’re names that also capture the imagination of the New Zealand public.

Face-off: Did the Black Ferns make the right coaching appointments?

Wayne Smith and captain Ruahei Demant after NZ won the Pacific Four Series this month (Getty Images)

Wayne is all about culture. In Japan at Kobelco Steelers, he did his research on the roots of the town, how they had pulled together after the earthquake, and brought that resilience and grit to the team. It was the same at the Chiefs, who they were, their identity. I’d say the Black Ferns have lost a bit of their identity recently and he’ll help get that back.

Whitney Hansen has been promoted to assistant coach, too, and being in an environment with World Cup-winning coaches will expedite her development. I did a similar role with England in 2004-06 as Geoff Richards’s assistant coach and I learnt so much. He’s still a mentor to me now and Whitney will have that with Wayne and Graham.

Wayne Smith and Graham Henry

Smith and Graham Henry coaching at a Black Ferns session at Gribblehirst Park in Auckland (Getty)


NO, says the World Cup-winning fly-half and Sale Sharks Women’s coach

After a big report looking into issues in the New Zealand women’s set-up, I wonder whether some of the problems highlighted were recognised.

What disappoints me is that they’ve gone for what looks like the safe option. It feels like the common go-to is getting a high-profile male coach to come in. They’re some of the world’s best coaches – Wayne Smith, Mike Cron, Graham Henry – but they have limited experience in the women’s game.

Allan Bunting changes the dynamic because he’s been with the Black Ferns Sevens and built a strong cultural identity there, but the group is still lacking females.

I know Whitney Hansen is part of it but anything you read about her links to her dad; it’s not about her coaching achievements but the fact she’s the daughter of Steve. It’s 2022, what about what she’s done? Victoria Grant is over there and getting a lot of praise. Why not have her or another female coach in the programme?

Whitney Hansen

Assistant coach Whitney Hansen makes a point before a Matatu match in Super Rugby Aupiki (Getty)

Coaching in a women’s programme, day-to-day you face things you potentially don’t face in the men’s game. I’m not saying it’s not important in men’s rugby but there’s much more of an emphasis on relationships in the women’s game, considering why they’re playing and what’s important to them. A lot of girls are balancing something alongside rugby. To get the best out of women, it’s understanding what makes them tick.

I’ve worked with very good male coaches and I’m not banging a drum that only females should coach females, it’s about the right person for the job. When it comes to international coaches, it’s often, ‘This guy’s proven’, but if you don’t give women a chance how do they get on that list? It seems like a missed opportunity.

Face-off: Did the Black Ferns make the right coaching appointments? We want to know what YOU think. Email your views to

katy Daley-McLean in 2020

Katy Daley-McLean with the Six Nations trophy after England’s Grand Slam in 2020 (Getty Images)

This debate first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Rugby World