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How quickly can the Black Ferns scars heal?

Opinion - Every team needs someone to wear down the opposition.

A well documented Instagram post was Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate's last resort.

But for her Black Ferns team mates it could be the first step towards getting their voices heard.

Black ferns L-R Langi Veainu, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, Toka Natua. Black Ferns v New Zealand Barbarians. Trafalgar Park, Nelson, New Zealand. Saturday 21 November 2020. ©Copyright Photo: Chris Symes /
Black Ferns Black Langi Veainu, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and Toka Natua. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2020

I have not played top level sport.

Though I have previously been in an environment that could have been described as - "the culture is strong, but is not fully aligned with management", "significant communication issues exist" - some of the same phrases an independent review panel used to describe the Black Ferns environment.

We had our own Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate. A brave person who spoke up when they became weighed down.

They took their (and by extension our) concerns to the top. Their performance and mental health was questioned because they sought solutions to pervasive issues.

They were seen as an outlier by those in charge and they still bear the scars of that time.

That team doesn't exist now. We all moved in different directions and we don't speak about that harrowing year.

The Black Ferns won't suffer the same fate.

The team will carry on.

The problems the Culture and Environment review highlighted will be talked about and assumably acted on.

But, how quickly will the scars heal?

The review released publicly this week acknowledged that "too many annual reviews of Black Ferns' tours have resulted in little, if any, change".

Rugby is not alone in instigating a review and then shoving the recommendations in the too hard basket hoping that the issues will be resolved without intervention or those who spoke out will shut up and fade away without a fuss.

New Zealand Rugby need to be held to account if there is any chance of the outcome of this review being any different. They also need to act decisively.

As the chair of Women in Rugby Aotearoa Traci Houpapa told RNZ: "NZR is in a position right now that it's behaviour, it's decisions and it's next steps will be judged by the public, by partners and stakeholders and on an international stage.

"This report should be a seminal report that makes change."

What triggered the Culture and Environment review was Ngata-Aerengamate's assessment of her time in the black jersey.

What resulted from the review was 26 recommendations across seven themes that centered on improving the high performance environment, management and leadership structures, communication, health, wellbeing and culture.

But if Ngata-Aerengamate hadn't compiled her social media post who knows how much longer the Black Ferns would have been waiting for New Zealand Rugby to listen.

In the wake of the review, the Rugby Players Association told RNZ it had battled for years to have concerns about the Black Ferns taken seriously.

What the advocates couldn't achieve, a powerfully worded social media post did - sort of.

Despite Ngata-Aerengamate not missing her target - coach Glenn Moore - with her message, Moore has the backing of New Zealand Rugby and he will keep his job at least until this year's Rugby World Cup.

England vs New Zealand
New Zealand head coach Glenn Moore
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Gecz0 /
Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore. Photo: Photosport Ltd

Ngata-Aerengamate won't have to work with Moore this year as she has not been contracted to the Black Ferns for 2022.

But her team mates will.

They will all have their own take on the current Black Ferns environment. Some will have experienced first hand the culturally insensitive comments, inconsistent feedback, "favouritism", "ghosting" and "body shaming".

If the players want a broader perspective than their own, they can read the review that takes into account what more than 50 past or present players and management have to say.

But, the current management team will always be tainted.

The players can't return to camp and forget what they already knew.

If they had been in the dark before, they all know now. They will be burdened by any new information they've uncovered in the review.

Team mates and colleagues who have a shared experience, share their experiences.

They know their employer backs their coach. But the independent panel was less certain - recommending NZR should review the Black Ferns' current team management/coaching structure, to reassess current capabilities to lead the Black Ferns until the 2022 Women's Rugby World Cup and beyond.

Can a coach change their ways overnight?

New Zealand has a World Cup title defence to prepare for and the Black Ferns already have battles to fight on the field as they have fallen behind their Northern Hemisphere opposition.

But before they can tackle an improving opposition, they have to confront the intel they have on their own team and those who lead not only the team but the organisation they are contracted to.