By Alison Donnelly.
The news this week that the New Zealand Rugby Union has culled the womens NPC for 2010 is a massive blow to the World Cup preparations of the Black Ferns.
I understand that the NZRU, along with many rugby unions around the world, are cash-strapped and they need to make cost savings but to make that decision in a World Cup season smacks of disregard for their womens game.
New Zealand, unlike their main World Cup rivals England, do not have the benefit of regular international competitions and the NPC serves as the main source of selection for all Black Ferns squads and offers the only real outlet for the countrys best players to play with and against each other.
If the NZRU were contemplating this decision last year and they must have been then surely they should have reassessed the Black Ferns trip to England in November where they played three test game.
Sure, those test games were shop window for the womens international game ahead of the World Cup in London this year, but savings could have been made by sending the New Zealanders on a cheaper tour, perhaps to Australia, in a bid to keeping the NPC competition intact.
Thats one option but there are many others that should surely have been explored after lengthy consultation with the countrys senior players which to my knowledge, (and I may stand corrected) has not happened.
The main issue here is that this has happened in a World Cup year. If it were last year and it was a one-year postponement then this might be something that New Zealand's best players could swallow and get on with, but to hamper their preparations so much with just months to go to the World Cup is downright poor planning.
Its also hugely disappointing that the call has come so late in the day given that the Black Ferns head coach Brian Evans will have been planning his selection and camps in and around performances in the NPC this year he now has a small window in which to rearrange those plans.
In my view, interestingly, the team that probably stands to benefit most from the call is England. Its not being unfair on other teams to say that England and New Zealand are the likely World Cup finalists at this stage. Plenty of international teams have been improving steadily in recent years think Wales, Ireland, Canada etc - but those two sides continue to stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Englands build-up to the World Cup will have already been carefully planned by Gary Street and his management and it can only be a good thing for his charges that their main rivals will be going into the competition minus the experience of a tough high-level club competition.
The NZRU say that two planned test games against Canada in the coming months as well as a number of international camps will suffice as preparation for their womens best players ahead of the defence of their World Cup crown.
If they are right, it will be despite, not because of that sentiment.