TODAY |

Plans to axe Farah Palmer Cup teams leave NZ's top female players devastated

New Zealand Rugby is considering cutting five teams from the women's provincial competition, as they look for ways to keep the Farah Palmer Cup going this season.

1 NEWS understands three options are being weighed up, from keeping all 13 teams in the 2020 competition, to cutting it to an eight team model.

For the Northland kauri, who only started playing in the Cup last year, the prospect of being given the axe would be a devastating blow.

"It just doesn't make sense to me," coach and former Black Fern Cheryl Smith told 1 NEWS.

"It will just destroy Northland and I will feel sorry for my team who has committed everything - some girls travel two hours just to get to pre-season training."

There are a lot of moving pieces at play, with uncertainty swirling around funding, and possible logistics amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

1 NEWS spoke to a range of people involved, and some questioned whether every union would be able to afford to field a team.

However several smaller provincial unions were adamant they're committed to it.

Former Black Fern Izzy Ford says it shows the provincial unions can see the importance of the women's game.

"It just isn't coming from the top," she says.

New Zealand Rugby confirmed it's working through a number of formats, and in a statement attributed to Head of Women's Rugby Cate Sexton said women's rugby "is at the fore of all our planning."

"We still have lots of work to do during these uncertain times, but preparation for Rugby World Cup 2021 remains our priority and the Farah Palmer Cup is a key part of that," the statement read.

"Once we have more certainty about the future of all our competitions, we will be able to confirm a start date for this year's Farah Palmer Cup. We are currently working through a number of formats for the competition."

The organisation has been criticised for keeping female players in the dark, while making public moves to restart Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 Cup.

"It does kind of uncover that we haven't moved forward much, that we're second rate citizens almost," Ms Ford told 1 NEWS.

"For an outfit that's talking about unifying, inspiring, this to me is not very inspirational and it doesn't come across as very unifying as well."

Players Association boss Rob Nichol says the parties are all in this together, and are working hard to make it work for everyone.

"It's a real challenge on us, to make sure we stand up the women alongside the men in this.

"And I think literally the eyes of the world will be on us and how we act during this time is really important."

That spotlight does not get more glaring than next year's women's Rugby World Cup, which is being hosted in Auckland and Whangarei.

Cheryl Smith can see the irony.

"If Northland is one of those teams who're going to miss out, what does that look like moving forward?"

There are plenty of unknowns clouding the Farah Palmer Cup's future, but one of the biggest questions is whether women - incidentally the game's biggest growth area - will keep the hard-fought gains they have made.