As New Zealand Rugby name Allan Bunting to steer the Black Ferns into the future, LockerRoom rugby columnist Alice Soper outlines what he’ll bring to the world champion side.
The first time I met Allan Bunting, he made me cry. It was the first time I’d heard what I needed from someone who was high up in rugby.
In that interview it was clear he understood the privilege of his post and took seriously the responsibility of being a champion of the women’s game. The same was on display at the press conference on Friday announcing his appointment as the new Black Ferns Director of Rugby. Bunting knew more than most folk in that room, about our history, our team and what’s needed to take us forward.
In the search for a new head coach, Bunting was the change candidate up against the long serving assistant, Wes Clarke. Bunting had joined the Black Ferns in the lead-up to the World Cup as the newly minted ‘Manager of Culture and Leadership’.
Bunting’s appointment to the top job now sends a clear message of where the focus will be for the fifteens programme. It’s one that will be welcomed by players and fans alike who have not yet forgotten the pain and promise of last year’s Black Ferns review.
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Bunting’s fingerprints are all over the accession of the Black Ferns Sevens programme. New Zealand Rugby had cut sevens for women in the early 2000s so when the Olympics picked up the sport, they were forced to start from scratch.
Many talented sevens players in New Zealand had become ineligible, having played for other nations during the suspension of competition. Bunting was involved in the rollout of the nationwide talent search, the 2012 Go for Gold programme. He was sideline as an assistant when we collected Olympic silver in Rio in 2016, before being promoted to head coach and bringing home gold in Tokyo five years later.
Bunting has walked alongside the growth of the game from open trials to professional contracts for our sevens wāhine. He is uniquely placed to steer our fifteens programme to do the same.
His insight into how to support players to walk the tightrope from amateur to professional athlete will be invaluable to our sport. Systems are one thing, but heart is quite another; Bunting brings both.
For all Bunting’s time with sevens, he is not untested in the longer format. He played himself for his local Bay of Plenty and was picked up by the Chiefs, first as a player and then as the head coach for the Chiefs Manawa. The inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki champions, Manawa played a style of running rugby not dissimilar to what ran the Black Ferns to victory last year.
Trust is a foundational tenant of Bunting’s coaching style. It was noticeable in the loyalty he built within his player group and in the way he kept himself out of halftime huddles.
It’s what will be needed as our national fifteens programme, for the most part, operates without direct oversight of Black Ferns coaches. Starting with trust, the athletes he builds are greater than their on field performance.
If you think of the biggest names in the women’s game right now, they come from the Allan Bunting school of rugby. You can see it in the confidence they carry themselves with. They are their whole beautiful selves and we love them for it.
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Bunting’s appointment comes as our fiercest rivals, England, are on the hunt for a new head coach of their own.
With Bunting in place, it adds another level of complication for Simon Middleton’s replacement. There were so many moments in the lead-up and during last year’s World Cup where all appeared to be lost for the Black Ferns.
This culminated in the final play of the final match. Joanah Ngan-Woo’s lineout steal marked the return of the audacious self belief that has long defined our Black Ferns. That confidence will only grow under a coach known for his hunger to unleash the potential of those around him.
Allan Bunting knows us, the women’s rugby community. He knows exactly what he’s getting into and how high the stakes and our expectations are of him. We will all be wishing him the best of luck.
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