The coach who guided the nib Blues in their historic women’s game against the Chiefs this year, will take their reins for the inaugural season of Super Rugby Aupiki in New Zealand.
Willie Walker, coach of the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup competition, will guide the nib Blues in the inaugural women’s competition that will feature teams from the Chiefs, Hurricanes and a combined South Island side from the Crusaders and Highlanders regions.
Walker joins a strong group of coaches named to head the Super Rugby Aupiki teams along with former Black Ferns Sevens coach Allan Bunting with the Chiefs; Black Ferns assistant Wesley Clarke with the Hurricanes and Canterbury women’s coach, Blair Baxter with the South Island side.
Blues CEO Andrew Hore said the club was pleased to have Walker on board and that the work done earlier in the year will be a good starting point for the organisation of the Super Rugby Aupiki team.
“Willie has a strong background as a professional player around the world and is developing into an excellent coach,” said Hore.
“Our club are extremely excited at the opportunities for this competition and the women’s game in general. Willie has had a taste of knowing who we are and how we operate, and now the hard work will begin to plan and put together a framework for the nib Blues team to prosper.”
Walker said he was thrilled and privileged to gain the role with the nib Blues and with the solid work put in to develop a squad for the one-off game this year, that he has a platform from which to build.
“It is exciting for the women’s game and for the Blues and I am looking forward to this opportunity,” said Walker.
“I was privileged to guide the nib Blues team for that first women’s game against the Chiefs and humbled that it played a part to where we are at now, which is a meaningful competition for the Super clubs. It is awesome to be part of it and receive this opportunity.”
Walker believes the competition is an important stake in the ground for the women’s game.
“We showed what the women’s game can offer with the game against the Chiefs. Now we get to this starting point, and the chance for women to shine. There is an incentive for all the women in this competition to show that we can produce rugby to a high standard and a style that is exciting to watch,” he said.
The name Super Rugby Aupiki reflects on the competition being a crucial stepping-stone from the Farah Palmer Cup to the Black Ferns, with Aupiki translated to mean “the ascent to the upper most realm.”
New Zealand Rugby Head of Women’s Rugby, Cate Sexton said work was ongoing to bring together Super Rugby Aupiki.
“We saw a glimpse of how exciting this competition will be with the match between the Blues and Chiefs earlier this year. It also reaffirmed the need for this level of competition; will be a great opportunity for developing players.
“It was imperative to make sure these teams were led by quality coaches and we have achieved that with this group,” she said.
“We’re committed to this competition providing pathways for women in our game and we’ll see that in each of the wider coaching groups that the clubs assemble which is an exciting prospect.”
Walker said the first major tasks for the nib Blues include the appointment of a management team, finalise discussions with the Blues on key logistics and planning, and to finalise a squad.
The initial competition will run over four weeks in March 2022 with a round robin among the four sides and a final, with February set aside for assembly and preparation. During the season, the players will come together for four days a week with games on Saturdays or Sundays, including the potential of some double-headers. Clubs will contract 28 players, expected to be named within a month.