Cantabs gunning for three-peat

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The seasoned tighthead prop knows the competition is not getting any easier, especially with no crossover games in 2019. Mind you, Canterbury dropped just one match all last season, a crossover clash against the Wellington Pride in Porirua. Other than that hiccup, the champions were clinical and efficient in all they did, right up until the 52-29 defeat of the Counties Manukau Heat in the final.

“Teams are getting stronger, so no game will be easy. We take each game as a battle and what we have to do to beat that team rather than what we have to do to hold the trophy. If we get to the big show, we’ll focus on that at the time. We just have to work together as a team,” says the former Black Ferns prop.

Canterbury has proven, under the coaching of Kieran Kite and Melissa Ruscoe, that it is a star team rather than a team of stars in the last two seasons, notwithstanding the fact that goalkicking halfback Kendra Cocksedge was a standout in 2018 with 10 tries among her 116 points, including 27 in the decider.

There are five new caps in the Canterbury squad, while the return of Rebecca Todd, who scored the winning try in the 2017 final, has offset the departure of hooker Forne Burkin to Hawke’s Bay. There is depth at prop with Te Ohaere-Fox and Pip Love backed up by Nina Poletti and young Amy Rule. Canadian international Cindy Nelles will bolster the lock/back-row.

First up is the Wellington Pride on Saturday at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch. The 12.05pm kickoff precedes the Canterbury-Southland Mitre 10 Cup clash. The JJ Stewart Trophy, which Canterbury thrice successfully defended in 2018, is on the line to add further spice to this rivalry.
“Wellington beat us quite convincingly last year, so I think they’ll be up for blood again. Again, they are not a team to be taken lightly. They’ve got some big girls and definitely tested out defence last year. It’s a double-header with the guys, who need a win too, so hopefully we can gee each other up,” says Te Ohaere-Fox.

Pocket rocket Pride wing Ayesha Leti-I’iga and Black Ferns loose forward Jackie Patea-Fereti, who both scored doubles in the 2018 fixture, will need to be watched closely by Canterbury.

While Cocksedge holds almost all of the Canterbury women’s rugby records, Te Ohaere-Fox does hold one notable mark. Her 89 caps, dating back to her 2004 debut, make her the all-time appearance leader for the province. She will need a full season in 2019 and then at least three more outings in 2020 to hit the ton.

“That’s the chat in the camp,” laughs Te Ohaere-Fox. “I was thinking ‘Why can’t there be more games in the season?’ If my body allows it, sure, why not come back (in 2020)?”

She herself was reinvigorated earlier this season by turning out for the first-ever UK Barbarians women’s team in England and the USA, playing alongside former Black Ferns teammates such as Linda Itunu, Fiao’o Faamausili and Justine Lavea.

“That was an amazing experience. You’ve got to have passion to play as long as I have, but that just brought out a whole lot more passion that I didn’t even know I had, playing with and against girls I had played internationally or at club level when I was in London (2011 with Wasps). That was one of the highlights of my career,” says Te Ohaere-Fox.

Three-peating with Canterbury might rank highly too if her side can raise the Farah Palmer Cup on October 26.


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Campbell Burnes

Campbell Burnes has written on rugby since 2000 for a wide variety of publications, both in print and online, whilst also contributing to television and radio shows. His major gigs have seen him at Rugby News magazine (2005-12), in which he covered 50 Test matches, and the New Zealand Herald (2014-17). Burnes is one of the few in rugby media to have played international rugby, having appeared for Manu Samoa in 1995 and 2000 (seven games) as a No 10. He is now the editor of Rugby News magazine and co-editor of the Rugby Almanack.


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