Early contact gives Alley rugby boost

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Lynn McConnell     08 Aug 2018     Getty Images


Now a 14-Test veteran and World Cup winner last year, Alley is part of the first generation of New Zealand women being paid to play the game. 

But while she was four when she caught the rugby bug, following her older brother around and immediately identifying with the running around and tackling people, she had a dream of being an All Black because they represented the pinnacle of achievement in many New Zealand's eyes.

That was until she started following the Black Ferns after she realised there was such a team.  

"It wasn't until I was at intermediate that I realised there were Black Ferns, you never really heard about them at all. There was no media, no publicity and the only reason I really knew about them was there was a lady from my home town of Tokoroa who was in our local paper a few times as a Black Fern," she said.

That player was 25-Test cap prop and twice a member of World Cup-winning teams in 1998 and 2002 Regina Sheck. 

"If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have had a clue. Because I loved rugby so much and played in boys' teams, my grandparents set up for me to meet up with her and I actually went down and did a couple of training sessions with her when I was about 11-12. 

"I thought it was like the coolest thing ever." 

Sheck's reward has been seeing Alley take the step up and make her own way in the game which has its own uniqueness being part of the first wave of professional players. 

"It's exciting and we've got a big year ahead and it is cool to be part of the first lot of contracted girls and able to play on home soil." 

Alley said when she was first named in the Black Ferns it was surreal and every year since then that she had been named the feeling was the same. 

"And now that I get paid to do it, I still can't believe it. It's still all so new, the contracts have only just got over the line. It's awesome." 

Before professionalisation her family had been great support in helping her out and it had always been tough financially to play at that level and to give it her best. 

"Now it's so much easier, there's not as much pressure and it's more about the support they have put in place around us; our trainers, nutritionists, personal development people. It is so much easier, it's great," she said.  

"It also allows me to balance everything in my life and is easier than having a fulltime job and having to study and train."  

It also helped being able to talk with support team and make sure she was on the right track. 

"The feeling of support just gives you a lot more confidence," she said. 

Alley said she could see the difference the support had made in the shape of her teammates because they could bring their improved physical and mental condition and apply it on the field.

"It's a whole other level and it also makes competing for your position a lot harder," she said. 

Having been exposed to the higher level of the game she had learned a lot from four World Cups veteran Anna Richards. 

"And since coming into the team I've got to play with the likes of Kelly Brazier and my biggest influence over the last couple of years has been Carla Hohepa, she's just had another baby and retired. It was awesome to have made the team at such a young age that I got to watch those girls and how hard they trained, their attention to detail and all the extra work they put in. I got to learn off the best. 

"I watch a lot of rugby obviously but my favourite All Black ever would be Ma'a Nonu. He's the same position as me and when he started out he was great but he developed all his skills and all the extra attributes to be the best 12 in the world. So by the end of his career, he could kick, he could pass both ways really well, he could run straight, he could distribute whereas at the start he was probably just a penetrator. I really admire him and what he did in his time in the jersey," she said.

Having been part of last year's World Cup triumph she still got goosebumps thinking about it. It was especially pleasing after having lost to a fully professional England team on home soil - a loss which elevated England to the Cup favouritism. 

But the Black Ferns had overcome that. 

"We just went in there with the right attitude, our whole team culture was just unreal. We were away for so long but our team just felt like family and from the moment we got there, after our first game, we pretty much knew we were going to win it. The feeling was just amazing." 

That allowed the team to play with confidence, something also engendered by the level of professionalism brought by the coaches and the support team. 

Now the attention turns to the new opportunities starting with Australia at ANZ Stadium in Sydney and then Eden Park, both games sharing the bill with the Bledisloe Cup Tests. 

"We've been on a high since the World Cup but now we've got to back it up and get out and perform and I think the girls are ready. I'm definitely ready to get out there and do it all over again hopefully."  

After the double headers there was the goal of a Test in Chicago against the United States en route to playing France in two Tests in November.  

"There's going to be some huge games because those teams are going from strength to strength. 

"The Americans are getting a pretty elite programme up and running over there and the French have just come off a Six Nations win and they've got a lot of momentum so they're going to be a huge challenge. 

"The French are so passionate and it is going to take a lot to beat them," she said.