From ‘small blacks’ to All Blacks - that’s the aim of the game when it comes to helping New Zealand children on the road to realising their sporting potential.
Rugby - one of New Zealand’s most popular sports - has helped spawn some of the most prolific sportsmen the world has ever seen, including the All Blacks who realised the nation’s sporting dream when they held aloft the Rugby World Cup trophy after the 2011 Rugby World Cup final.
But it is not just the male population that excels at what is widely recognised as the national game. Women of all ages also enjoy the thrill of the chase - culminating in the New Zealand women’s rugby team being crowned Women’s Rugby WorldCup winners no less than four times.
Many children get their first taste of the physically demanding game through Rippa Rugby - a non-contact version that is a safe introduction for girls and boys from around age five.
Seven-a-side mixed teams
Rippa Rugby is played by mixed seven-a-side teams with simplified rugby rules. Instead of tackling, players rip velcro-fastened tags from each other’s waists. This forces the player in possession of the ball to pass it onto another team member. Six concurrent rips against the attacking team means the last player has to pass the ball over to the other team.
Just like rugby, the object of the game is for the player to score a try by playing the ball with downward pressure on or behind an opponent’s goal line. A try is worth five points.
Rippa Rugby is advocated by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) as a safe sporting experience that teaches ball handling, defence and attacking skills. It allows youngsters to get involved in the national game at grassroots level, helps nurture talent and keeps it flowing through.
Since being introduced in New Zealand in the early 2000s, Rippa Rugby has been the starting point for many future All Black and New Zealand Sevens stars. But it’s not just reserved for the boys - more than 30,000 girls are estimated to play the sport.
Annual primary schools’ tournament
A Rippa Rugby tournament is played in New Zealand each year where 20 of the best primary school teams come together to play for the ultimate prize of being crowned Rippa Rugby Champions.
In 2013 the ‘small blacks’ were treated to a surprise visit from some well-known All Blacks who put them through their paces. All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw says "Rippa is a great introduction to more physical rugby and a perfect sport for both boys and girls."