Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport. But for many, the thought of women playing rugby is a joke. They can't imagine women putting their bodies on the line and being so physical. However, the inclusion of rugby sevens in the 2016 Olympics has resulted in a major boost in women playing the sport.

A team of journalists at the Waikato Times in Hamilton, New Zealand, set out to tell a different kind of sports story with a video about a girls’ rugby team at the heart of the project.

Videographer Mike Scott and I saw an opportunity for innovation, but our approach meant breaking the rules around online storytelling.

Waikato Times journalists took a fresh approach in a video about girls' rugby champions.
Waikato Times journalists took a fresh approach in a video about girls' rugby champions.

Instead of a 90-second news clip, we wanted to create something that hadnt been done in New Zealand before — using cinematic techniques to create what essentially became a short documentary.

The result? Our video, “All In,” shows the rise in a minority sport and how a team’s “family culture” can endure. 

We identified Hamilton Girls’ High School rugby team as the ideal subject for the video. To create this compelling story, we followed the team for five months, building relationships to shoot a “fly-on-the-wall,” 12-minute feature video on the team.

We filmed the girls at training, games, home, and school. The project culminated during the national championship final. 

During the filming, Coach Crystal Kaua revealed that her players used the values and lessons taught in the rugby environment to help get jobs or move into study. Her girls were breaking the mold for what people from their socio-economic backgrounds might be doing with their lives. 

The film was not only about rugby, but how rugby had influenced the girls' lives.
The film was not only about rugby, but how rugby had influenced the girls' lives.

The role of Rebekah Parsons-King, another young visual journalist, was important in building a relationship with the team. 

A two-minute, one-shot opening set the tone for the piece and was the only scripted part of the feature. The constant use of steadicam technology helped create a film that wouldnt look out of place on the big screen. 

While the story was made to look beautiful on screen, this wasn’t a story about a rugby team winning a national final. It was about showing how the girls were transforming their lives through sports.

The completed video was published on New Zealand’s largest news Web site, Stuff.co.nz, on the night of the final.

The feature spread around the globe in a matter of hours, with international sevens players from Spain to Canada and New Zealand sharing and talking about what it had done for the girls.

The video “All In” engaged viewers around the world.
The video “All In” engaged viewers around the world.

The Hamilton Girls’ High School rugby programme was over-subscribed in the week following the feature’s release. Rugby coaches from throughout the country sought to replicate their programme. The rugby girls had made their mark!