Gregor Paul: How one woman shattered rugby's biggest lie

Gregor Paul,
Publish Date
Friday, 14 December 2018, 8:12AM
Kendra Cocksedge.
Kendra Cocksedge.


There is a small and indeed small-minded lobby of rugby followers who think the game's newfound desire to embrace women is merely a fad being pursued to conform with the social expectations of the age.

This isn't a group with open membership but it's easy enough to know who's a card-carrier because they will always find a way to reveal their allegiance to the concept of rugby being just for men.

They will always manage to establish that they believe gender inclusion is being forced upon rugby executives by forces they must obey for fear of being struck off by sponsors or other sources of revenue.

Thursday will, therefore, be a frantic and exhausting day for this group who like to think of themselves as guardians of the game's traditions and therefore empowered to legitimately defend the Bastille as it were from the invading forces of inclusion and diversity.

If the subject of Kendra Cocksedge winning the Kelvin Tremain trophy comes up, they will have to smirk, shake their head with a perplexed expression to provide the first signal they don't respect or value that decision.

Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year winner Kendra Cocksedge. Photo / Photosport
Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year winner Kendra Cocksedge. Photo / Photosport

Then will come the well-rehearsed put down which will begin with the lie that they have great respect for the women's game...but, it doesn't seem right to compare the achievements of someone playing five tests a year against moderate opposition with everything the All Blacks have to deal with.

Give the defenders of this misguided faith the opportunity and they will mount an argument that Cocksedge's historic victory was merely tokenism – a gimmick to be seen to be doing the right thing.

It would be a terrible shame for anyone who doesn't feel this way to be converted by any of this nonsense or persuaded against thinking that Cocksedge has been deemed to be the best player in the country for any other reason than in 2018 she was the best player in the country.

There is categorically nothing token about her award and anyone who saw her play for the Black Ferns against the Wallaroos would know that.

She was quite stunningly good in both those tests and while Beauden Barrett produced a never to be forgotten performance at Eden Park, an hour earlier on the same ground Cocksedge had set the standard for all play-makers in New Zealand in how to strategically manage a game.

There may not be a smarter rugby brain in the country right now and you can only imagine that if Cocksedge had been in the All Blacks side that played the Springboks in Wellington, there is no way on earth they would have spurned the chance to drop the winning goal.

The judges have recognised not only her playing talent, but her strength of personality and ability to lead and rightly concluded that she is the most deserving recipient of the ultimate individual award ahead of what wasn't actually a stellar short-list of male candidates.

Kendra Cocksedge in 2008. Photo / Photosport
Kendra Cocksedge in 2008. Photo / Photosport

In fact, far from being tokenism, it would have been a spectacular snub had Cocksedge not won such was her consistency and quality.

Her award is, however, not just proof she was the best player in the country in 2018, but also that despite the secret resistance and quiet mockers and sceptics, there is a genuine revolution taking place in rugby in this country.

The origins of that revolution were the ugly and worrying Chiefs end of season party in 2016.

That business with the stripper at their end of season party was so bad it has forced executives, administrators, players, coaches, parents, broadcasters, sponsors and anyone connected to rugby to rise above any ingrained prejudices and behaviours and strive for a more inclusive, diverse and accepting landscape.

The quiet resistors will continue to say it won't last and that the embrace of women's rugby will loosen as the issue of gender inclusion inevitably loses its grip of the media agenda, but thankfully they are not just odious, they are wrong.

Cocksedge can now take her place in history and be certain that she has been recognised for all the right reasons – that in 2018 she was the best player in the country period.

Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive

Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive

4PM - 7PM