Credit: World Rugby
Kelly Brazier has worn a Black Ferns jersey for 11 years now, having made her test debut back in 2009, but she can count on probably one hand the number of opportunities she has had to play on home soil in that time.
That makes this weekend's HSBC New Zealand Sevens at FMG Stadium in Hamilton a special occasion for Brazier and her Black Ferns Sevens team-mates, giving family and friends the chance to see them in action as they bid to build on their title success in Dubai and Cape Town in December.
“It’s something I’m really excited for,” Brazier told World Rugby. “It just adds a little bit of something.
“We travel around all these amazing places in the world but to know you’re in your home backyard and the whole crowd’s supporting you and then on top knowing you’ve got your friends and family watching you live, because they sort of watch you through a little screen travel the world. For them to see what our lives are like is pretty special.
“I think it’s massive [having a round in New Zealand]. It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time and rugby, it is New Zealand, so to now be able to put our women’s team out there on the world stage and showcase it is not just to New Zealand but the whole world is something our team is really looking forward to and I know it’s something they won’t take for granted.”
Brazier has won almost all there is to win in the game: five world series titles, two Rugby World Cup Sevens crowns and a Commonwealth Games gold medal – having scored the winning try in extra-time – in the shorter form and two Rugby World Cup titles in 15s.
The only thing missing is an Olympic gold medal, something she and New Zealand will hope to secure in Tokyo later this year, having returned home from sevens’ debut Games at Rio 2016 with a silver medal after losing to Australia.
But don’t think that means Brazier is ready to hang up those boots just yet as she becomes the fourth Black Ferns Sevens player to reach the milestone of 30 series tournaments this weekend. She intends to be around for a few years yet, her passion for the game still burning as bright as it did when she started playing as a five-year-old.
“It’s been an exciting season so far. We had a new group of girls come in, a lot of young players, and for me it’s always pretty special seeing those young girls come in and put that black jersey on for the first time,” the 30-year-old explained.
“When you’ve been around the team for a wee while sometimes you forget those little moments, so just seeing the smiles on their faces, whether it’s running out onto the stadium or receiving their first jersey, you just get those goosebump moments all over again and it sort of takes you back to when you first got yours.
“It [the jersey] is huge. It has always been a childhood dream of mine. I have played rugby since I was five years old and I didn’t even know there was women’s sevens or the Black Ferns back then, I grew up always wanting to be an All Black until I realised there was a women’s team.
“When the world series and Olympics came along, I was just absolutely over the moon and I knew that was what I wanted to do.
“I guess when I finally get that chance to pull on the black jersey I probably always just take a moment and realise where I have come from and the work I have put in to get here because everyone wants to pull on that jersey and there are only a select few that do.
“In saying that too, I know the people that have gone before me and I guess my job is I am just trying to enhance our legacy and hopefully do the jersey proud and leave it in a better place than when I got it.
“To see where the sport has now come, the full world series, the Olympics, the Comm Games, there are just so many opportunities and for me I guess I probably sometimes wish I was a few years younger but at the same time I am happy to have played because I loved it and I still love it.
“I haven’t come because of the Olympics or it is fully paid or centralised, it is just a pure love of the game and that is something I probably hold myself too and as long as I keep enjoying it hopefully I will stay around.
“I am really enjoying it, the body is feeling almost the best it ever has at the moment so those are probably the two most important things to me and I guess if those are going well then for me there is no reason to stop. I am loving my footy at the moment, I love being amongst the group and while the body holds out I am going to stay here as long as I can.”
When the time does finally comes to stop playing, Brazier won’t be going far from the game that has given her so much, admitting she “probably wouldn’t know what to do with myself” without rugby so “will be involved in some way or other”.
Brazier can often be seen “picking the brains” of Black Ferns Sevens co-coaches Allan Bunting and Cory Sweeney, talking tactics after training or matches and putting her years of experience to good use, even if she describes herself as “probably quite an overthinker at times.”
Her influence on the field is clear for all to see, her vision creating the space for those around her to run in tries, while her clear head and calmness in pressure situations has got the Black Ferns Sevens out of trouble on many occasions.
As her captain Sarah Hirini puts it: “She is someone I look too a lot for advice, especially on the rugby field. She knows the game inside out and to have her on our team it is like the quiet assassin that doesn’t say a lot but her actions on the field put people into space, helps our game plan out.
“She is a huge asset to have and has a lot of experience on the world stage.”
Brazier is already helping to coach some under-18 representative teams near the Black Ferns Sevens base in Mount Maunganui but in the years to come she is widely tipped to become the first female Black Ferns Sevens coach.
“I definitely have that tactical way of thinking and for me I guess once I step away, rugby has given me so much and it is definitely an interest to I guess try and get into back into that environment and give back to a sport that has given me so much and whether it is coaching or development or coaching younger girls, I would love to be a part of it.
“I think it is so much more than just a game, we obviously travel to some amazing places but for me it is the journey to get there, what happens on the training field beforehand, which takes dedication and a lot of other things, relationships with team members, just the work ethic, there is so much that goes into it.
“It is not just a sport to me, it is a life, it teaches you to be a better person, it teaches good character and because there is so many things it gives you, you want other people to try it to see why you are so in love with the game. I would love for more people to get into it and to have half the experiences I have had would be a pretty cool feeling for me.
“I guess it is such a cliché, but if you want to do something you can, there is literally nothing stopping you. I guess more and more people are realising it and we are now seeing female role models actually doing it.
“It is showing them that it still can be done but there is still a number of things that are probably untouched and in the next five or 10 years there will be a first in this and in that and it is just cool to see. It is so cliché but it is true.”