The Southland Girls’ first 15 was not even the best in Southland in 2010, let alone a team which harboured dreams of one day playing a lead role during a growth phase of female rugby in New Zealand.
Nathan Muir has coached the Southland Girls’ first 15 since 2007 and pinpoints 2010 as when the shift in mindset at the school happened.
It shifted from making up numbers in rugby to competing.
The girls wanted more from the sport than just a social get-together with friends.
What has since unfolded at Southland Girls’ High School has been remarkable.
Interest in rugby at the Invercargill school has grown and the success attached to it has been unprecedented.
It’s not until you delve deep into the numbers when you get a full appreciation of just how remarkable this success story is.
Since 2011 the school’s first 15 has lost a total of just five games. During that time it hasn’t lost a game played in the South Island.
In 2012 New Zealand Rugby introduced a national secondary schoolgirls’ first 15 competition to mirror what was already in place for the boys.
Every year since that competition was added, Southland Girls’ has won the South Island title to progress to the national Top Four finals.
Southland Girls’ is the only school in New Zealand to play at every national series.
On top of the team results, Southland Girls’ has also provided a pathway to the top for some of its alumni – most notably Alena Saili.
Saili was a star progressing through Southland Girls’ and during the past fortnight she has started on the wing in tests for the Black Ferns against Australia in Sydney.
The school has built somewhat of a rugby dynasty in a sport which was once an all-male bastion.
The latest South Island title came via a crushing 39-0 victory over Christchurch Girls’ High School in Dunedin last Saturday.
The transformation since 2010 had largely been driven by the players themselves, coach Muir said.
the female component of rugby in recent years had been shown some love and the players had developed as a result.
Muir pointed to the fact that the referee and assistant referees at last Saturday’s South Island final were all mic’d up. It was the little things which had subconsciously spurred the players on to get better, Muir said.
It all added to the legitimacy of the female game, he said.
In the case of Southland Girls’, Muir said success had bred even more success.
After seven straight years winning the South Island title, Muir said the current players were more determined than ever to win – simply because they did not want to be the first Southland Girls’ team to not reach the national Top Four finals.
Also, each and every year the players attended the national finals, Muir said they improved as a result of being exposed to a higher level of rugby.
Next up for the Southland Girls’ first 15 are games on September 7 and 9 in Palmerston North as part the Top Four national finals.
With the majority of the current Southland Girls’ first 15 set to return again next year, there is every reason to suggest the rugby dynasty may well extend beyond 2018.