This International Women’s Day we take a look at the women behind the women in our national teams.
Cate Sexton heads the women’s game at New Zealand Rugby and also takes up the role of campaign manager when the Black Ferns assemble for camps and matches.
The Black Ferns Sevens squad is based fulltime in Tauranga and the off-field team includes manager Toni Young, physiotherapist Kate Niederer, Doctor Deb Robinson and Personal Development Manager Nikita Hall.
Young took the role as team manager in 2018 but that was not her first foray in rugby, having worked as part of the Rugby World Cup 2011 team seven years earlier.
“I was the travel co-ordinator for Rugby World Cup 2011. My job was air travel; organising all international travel for teams coming into the country and all the domestic travel when they got here.
“The next opportunity I got was when I worked for the New Zealand Olympic Committee and travelled to the Rio Olympics with the NZ Team, I got to see the Black Ferns Sevens and All Black Sevens play and that’s when I knew I wanted to be involved in sevens,” said Young.
Physiotherapist Kate Niederer joined the Black Ferns Sevens at the start of 2021, having previously been involved with the wider sevens programme looking after the rehab of injured players across both the men and women.
Dr Deb Robinson needs little introduction, the highly experienced doctor has been part of the World Cup winning All Blacks and Black Ferns and now works out of Tauranga overseeing both sevens teams. Dr Robinson was the first New Zealand women to serve of the World Rugby Council when she was appointed in 2018.
Nikita Hall is in her second year as the Personal Development Manager for the sevens teams, but she is no stranger to the rugby scene. Hall first started working in rugby for the Taranaki Rugby Union in 2011 and went on to be the manager of the Chiefs before taking her role with the New Zealand Rugby Players Association in the sevens camp.
“Rugby is this amazing connector of people and in my case it has a strong family flavour,” explained Hall.
“My Dad, Peter, played for Taranaki, as did my younger brother Berny. In 2014, while working as team manager for Taranaki, we won the Mitre 10 Cup for the first time in the Union’s history. Berny was playing for Taranaki at that time, and I was also working alongside Colin Cooper (Dad’s old teammate). Seeing thousands of passionate locals descend onto the field at the final whistle, and to then celebrate with the team in the days following was an unforgettable experience and encapsulated what the game is really about – bringing communities together,” said Hall.
The Black Ferns have a strong group of women behind the scenes in their team as well with manager Lauren Cournane, physiotherapist Georgia Milne, intern coach Whitney Hansen and nutritionist Kirsty Fairbairn.
Cournane joined New Zealand Rugby 13 years ago, started managing the Black Ferns in 2016 on top of her day-to-day commitments before the role was made full time in 2019.
“Rugby has a long history and traditions that inspire me every day and also the ability to adapt and grow. The opportunity to continue working with our world leading team of players and management is something I am looking forward to and we can use the next 12 months to make RWC one in a million,” said Cournane.
Canterbury Farah Palmer Cup assistant coach Whitney Hansen joined the Black Ferns this year as part of World Rugby Coaching Internship Programme. Following in the footsteps of dad, Sir Steve Hansen, she will work alongside the Black Ferns coaches in the build up to the Rugby World Cup.
Georgia Milne is the physiotherapist for the Black Ferns and has a long history in the women’s game, working with the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup and club teams in Auckland.
Kirsty Fairbairn brings a wealth of sports nutrition experience to the Black Ferns, having held roles with Otago and the Highlanders.
“My work right now with the Black Ferns and the Women’s High Performance programme is a major highlight for me. For most of my career I have worked with male team sports; mainly rugby league and rugby union.
“While I have of course supported female athletes, being immersed in a female squad environment has been a wonderful new experience for me – the culture of the team is really exciting and I have a strong sense of belonging within this squad even though I’m new into the role, which is incredibly rewarding,” said Fairbairn.