Photo credit: Simon O'Connor, Stuff.
It's a role Blyde never thought would come.
“I’m really honoured to be president. Two years ago a member of my club rang me and suggested they’d put my name forward for Vice President. I laughed. I was flattered but I didn’t believe the other clubs would have faith in me,” Cherry admitted.
“The presidency is an honorary role. You can get involved as much as you like or just sit there nodding and smiling. I intend to keep busy,” Cherry said.
Cherry first played rugby for Clifton, the leading club in the early days of organised competition in Taranaki.
“I played for Clifton from 1989 to 1992 and again from 1994 to 1996 and don’t remember losing a single game. We had a very strong team. Most of the Taranaki touch team was in our backline and our forwards were big and strong."
The first Taranaki representative team beat Wellington in 1989. A fast-steeping second-five, Blyde was a standout. In 1992 she was picked to represent New Zealand against an Auckland XV at Eden Park.
The match was won 36-0 by New Zealand with Anna Richards scoring two tries. It was the first New Zealand women’s game officially recognised by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. Only later did fixtures between 1989 and 1991 become official.
"When I got up there I absolutely loved it. I rang my husband Steve at, I don't know what time, 'honey shall we put off having a family? I want to keep doing this."
Former All Black coach JJ Stewart and fullback Ross Brown helped ensure women could keep playing rugby in Taranaki. Stewart in particular was influential in changing attitudes and creating opportunities at a national level.
“They were good blokes who loved rugby. They weren’t PC people but we didn’t care what they said to us, we just wanted to play rugby. JJ didn’t say a lot but when he spoke it mattered. He was a smart man who taught me a lot.”
Like JJ Stewart, Cherry transitioned into coaching, initially assisting her twin boys Cole and Liam, and then serving as Junior Convenor of Clifton. Between 2013 and 2016 she was Secondary Schools Liaison for the Taranaki Rugby Football Union.
She wants to make sure the women's game is being looked after and continues to grow in Taranaki.
“Things were stagnant for a while but we’ve been putting in a big effort with club days and greater resourcing. We want to create a culture where our girls want to give back, it’s not all about receiving.
“It’s a little bit disappointing we’ve only got the four senior teams. We were close to having five but that didn’t get over the line. What’s impressive is the growth of the school girl competition. There are eight school teams and we are going to pick a Taranaki Under 18 side that will play in either the Chiefs or Hurricanes competition.”
Attracting youngsters to play rugby isn’t straightforward. Cherry believes good coaching and more risk taking would help boost numbers.
“I think video games and the physical side of it are putting a lot of kids off. We tend to wrap kids up in cotton wool these days. I’ve been hurt more by farming than I have playing rugby. If you're taught how to play properly you can avoid a lot of injuries.”
Rugby is a constant in the Blyde household, with Michaela an Olympic gold medallist and son Liam part of the Taranaki side that won the Bunnings NPC Championship last year. Cherry thinks back to how nerve-wracking the Black Ferns Sevens' semi-final against Fiji was.
“Steve and I were watching at home and the worst game was the semi-final against Fiji. That was a holy hecka. I think I ran every step with the girls in that one. Once they made the final I knew they’d win it.”
Liam dabbled in different positions around the Taranaki backline last year, but finally settled at halfback. Blyde said Neil Barnes' coming in as coach changed the team.
"The culture was better off the field and that translated into more success on the field.”
The first President of the Taranaki Rugby Union was George Bayly, a first-class cricketer and rugby player from the Hawera club. He served between 1889 and 1898 and later became President of New Zealand Rugby. He was replaced by his brother and All Black Alfred Bayly. The outgoing President is Lyal French-Wright who represented Canterbury and coached and selected continuously from 1972- 2012. French-Wright is a former Headmaster of New Plymouth Boys’ High School.