James Mortimer 08.Apr.2013Getty Images
Recently wrapping up duties as a whistle blower at the Women’s Six Nations, Nicky oversaw two matches, Ireland (the eventual champions) v France in Dublin, before refereeing Wales v England at Port Talbot.
Roughly 50 km to the East is Cardiff, a city where Nicky and the Black Ferns played in the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup, an event that was “a huge learning curve” for her and the team, after the United States defeated New Zealand 7-0 to knock them out.
America, a team that Nicky said was “very good”, had already proved their mettle earlier that year.
“I guess the thing was that New Zealand had been exposed to the fact that America was a good team, and we had played against them on two previous occasions,” Inwood recalls.
“It was the first time women's rugby was getting sold on the big stage, and some countries were actually doing it better than us.”
While it was a honour to part of the first New Zealand Women’s International team in a World Cup, the fact that the USA went on to win it proved to Nicky “that we better match them, or we will fall behind.”
The former hooker recalls the American Women being too big and too powerful.
“We had a tiny forward pack compared to them,” Inwood said.
“The fact that we conceded a pushover try confirmed that!”
Inwood, a former hooker, does concede that perhaps the try scored that day came due to the pressure the Black Ferns received in the front row.
“I suppose I could take some responsibility for it then” Inwood laughs.
Since then Nicola Anne Inwood has continued to contribute to the game, with 11 Test caps, 25 Test matches as a referee (and over 50 first class matches), and the record as the first woman to referee an international on Kiwi soil, attendance at four Women’s Rugby World Cups (player in 1991, referee in 2002, 2006 and 2010), and racking up 14 seasons as a referee.
But it is Wanganui where perhaps Inwood’s name was etched into local rugby folklore.
“After finishing university, I moved to North Island,” she said.
“One Saturday, in good old Wanganui, I was at my local and talked to a few girlfriends, putting the idea out there of forming a rugby team. Towards the end of the season, we progressed to having our first team.”
Nicky established the Women’s Marist side and eventually helped set up a four team competition (Marist, Counties, Taihape and Raetihi) which led to the establishment of a Wanganui side.
“Eventually we had a Wanganui rep team playing in the national competition,” she said.
“From there we played the likes of Wellington and Auckland, which as you can imagine was quite one sided, but it boosted the profile of rugby in the region, and that continued for some time.”
From here Inwood believes that one of the strengths back then was that rugby for Women was in a sense a final frontier, with so many girls curious about whether or not they could play rugby, and feels that this point of difference continued growth in the game.
“It is all to do with profiling,” Inwood passionately explains.
“At the stage I started I had some profile, because I had experience as a Black Fern, and that meant I had support and people would listen.”
“There were a lot of ladies who were playing rugby back then because it was new and exciting, but now it isn't such a driver.”
Nicky felt there was still so much scope for growth, saying that in Wanganui their best success came due to what they achieved on the field, very much like the men’s teams in New Zealand.
“In Wanganui, because what we were doing got results, we then generated interest,” she said.
She felt that key here was to look to the time honoured practices that enabled rugby to remain strong, saying that Sevens and the creation of a New Zealand Women’s team would only give more chances to those at the grassroots levels.
“I think Sevens is a wonderful opportunity to get into the sport, and with this build through to the representative level,” Inwood said.
“The top will only be as good as the underneath, which was why it was so exciting to see the Women’s Provincial Championship back last year.”
“It is vitally important for players and especially referees to have that competition, so the Women's game can grow, because over time are players will learn and get better, and so will our referees.”
“This exposure won’t just filter to our players, but also our referees, which is important because it can be hard to push interest in levels lower than that.”
Nicky, ever the rugby romantic, also hoped that one day there would be more XV’s action for Women, especially in New Zealand at the highest levels.
“I would love to see more XVs game time in New Zealand, even involving Australia, South Africa or a Pacific Island team,” Inwood mused.
“Similar to a Nations Cup in America, I think that a round robin tournament would be so strong for the game, with the host alternating each year.”
“The biggest problem for us is the cost of travel, and our reputation as a strong nation can often be a deterrent to teams.”
Reputation is something that Nicky knows one or two things about, now recognised as the most experienced Women referee in the game, although even after 25 international matches, Inwood admits that nerves still get to her.
“I was pretty nervous at my first big game, it was USA versus Netherlands at the 2002 Rugby World Cup at Barcelona,” she said.
“When I heard the national anthems it brought home to me the importance of the occasion, and the fact that your decision making was crucial to the outcomes of the game.”
“I still get extremely nervous, whether it is my first or 25th, whether it is Six Nations or a World Cup match.”
“Every now and then, I still doubt myself, but I correct myself, I know I am good at what I do,” Nicky said in valuable advice to all.
“Even if you doubt yourself to start with, you can still reflect back on it and know that you have achieved, and here we probably don't give ourselves enough praise, which is in line with NZ rugby expectations!”
Inwood, who believe rugby gives “unity, opportunity to travel but most importantly the chance to challenge yourself physically and mentally” is important as we can aim for any level we choose, and she felt that all levels were vital contributors.
“Like anything it is an interest that you can decide what level you want to aim for, not everyone wants to be an All Black or Black Fern, but it is important that all players, irrespective of goals or abilities, can contribute to the game,” Inwood said.
Far from being content with the above, Nicky in her spare time works at the Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch, where her key role is too look after volunteers, as well as take tours.
Despite her considerable rugby reputation, she does a great job taking people around the large open zoo and educating them to the wildlife, even if some give her a bit of stick for her other job.
“There are times I’d love to give some yellow cards out to tour groups, especially with locals,” Inwood laughs.