What did you make of the Black Ferns Test series against the Wallaroos?
It was a great way to finish off the tests for the year with two triumphant performances against our trans-Tasman rivals who are getting stronger and stronger with each match. I am always nervous leading up to the Laurie O'Reilly Trophy series, because that trophy means a lot to us, as Laurie was a great champion for women's rugby and a trailblazer for the women's game in Aotearoa. We want to keep that trophy just as bad as the All Blacks want to keep the Bledisloe. I also get nervous because I want the game to be a great spectacle, as well as a great outcome for the team. We have a lot of support for women's rugby and to win over more fans and support, we need to demonstrate our tactical and technical skills, our fitness and passion, and our ability to play dynamic and intense rugby. The Black Ferns definitely did that, and there were flashes where the Wallaroos also demonstrated they are building well towards the Rugby World Cup in 2021. We dominated in many areas of the game and need to keep working on that in 2020.
Les Elder obviously had her first season as skipper, what did you make of her campaign?
Les is an amazing leader on and off the field. I had the privilege of spending some time with the team in their 'chill zone' (team room) and Les was grilling me about what we used to do in the team in 'our' day. This attention to detail, this focus on the task at hand, and the commitment and work ethic and passion she demonstrates on the field (first and foremost) and also off the field is exactly what we want from a captain. She is adding her own personal touch to the role, and so far, it has been effective. She is well-respected and a great, powerful and hard-working player. She also lives and breathes the values she expects from the rest of the team.
Who were some of the standout Black Ferns players for you?
Gosh, where do I start? I thought Charmaine McMenamin was outstanding and Ayesha Leti-I’iga had a dynamite series on the wing. I think Ruahei Demant has grown as first five and is starting to stamp her mark on this jersey in a confident and strong way. I also feel Chelsea Alley and Carla Hohepa had strong games, and Pia Tapsell and Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu were also great impact players, adding a different set of skills which added value to the team. And what a debut Grace Brooker had. I was so happy for her because I saw first-hand how moved she was to receive her jersey. It is moments like that which are priceless.
Looking ahead to the Farah Palmer Cup that starts this weekend, who are you liking the look of?
It will be great to see teams like Auckland bounce back from last year and prove that they have more in the tank for 2019. I'd also like to see Canterbury, Counties Manukau and Wellington challenge for the top position.
I'm really proud of teams like Taranaki, who joined the competition last year. That is often the toughest season, so hopefully they've learnt a lot from that experience and can come back stronger this year. Of course, I always have a place in my heart for provincial teams like Manawatu, Otago and Waikato who I used to play for, as well as Bay of Plenty who always provide some exciting moments. They have a number of Sevens players based in Tauranga absorbing all the knowledge and passion that comes with being close to the high performance atmosphere and players.
Are you excited to see how Northland goes in their first campaign?
I am stoked for Northland that they have a team in the FPC! I know the coaches (Cheryl Smith nee Waaka and Suze Dawson), so I'm sure they will be passing on their high expectations and work ethic to their players. Of course, with leaders and characters like Te Kura Ngata Aerengamate and Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali in the mix, they will definitely be the wild card team. I wouldn't take them lightly at all!
You must be delighted to see so many games broadcast live on Sky this season?
I am stoked as a New Zealand Rugby Board member, as a person who loves rugby, and as someone passionate about promoting women's sport, to see more games televised by Sky. I often talk about influencing systems and structures to bring about genuine and impactful change, and Sky are doing just that. I'm sure they realise there is a bit of interest in women's rugby and women's sport these days, and we should strike while the iron is hot with regards to building a loyal and informed fan-base for these worthy athletes and teams. The more exposure we get to the players, the characters, the ooh and aah moments, and the skill level and passion that will be on display, the more young girls (and old girls too!) will want to play this game. It is also important to put on great competitive games and that is where the high performance focus at the provincial level, the excellent coaching, and player pathways are important too.
Lastly, congratulations on being recognised in the NZ Listener as one of the leading Maori women in the last 80 years, what does that accolade mean to you and your family?
I must admit this was very humbling. I am a bit embarrassed to be compared worthy enough to be on the same page as the likes of Dame Whina Cooper, Princess Te Puea Herangi, and Tariana Turia. I always cringe a bit, because really these wahine toa I mentioned are amazing. They have fought for the rights, recognition, wellbeing, and advancement of their iwi, hapu and whanau. They don't back down from what it takes to challenge systems that are testing and often detrimental to Maori. I feel that I am nowhere near the mana that they possess. I just want to do my best to try and transform, advance and contribute to rugby, sport and tertiary opportunities. Maybe one day I will look back and feel I did all I could to make a stand, to represent, and to give back to a sport that has really helped me out in my life in many ways. I love my family, because they don't care what anyone else says or thinks about me. They love me unconditionally, and just want me to be present and to love them back in return.