Matatū is on the board in Super Rugby Aupiki. After three consecutive defeats in 2022, the southerners scored their maiden competition victory with a 33-31 success against the Blues on Saturday. Skipper Alana Bremner was delighted with the outcome.
“It was pretty special; you could see that in the excitement on the girls' faces. Though it was a short season last year, it felt like a long one for us, going from loss to loss. We’ve been preparing well. The girls have earned it,” Bremner said.
Alana is not used to losing. She has played in 32 successive wins for Canterbury since 2018 and is 10-3 as a Black Fern.
“There were a lot of lessons from last year. The biggest change is we’ve got the balance between on-field and off-field right. On Wednesday, we have Manaakitanga day, where we go out and give back to the community. We have mini teams and fun internal activities. Because we're not in a bubble, there’s a lot of whānau around too. Basically, we're not as serious."
Most of the Matatū squad has fully committed to Aupiki, though. Bremner was keen to single out those who were also holding down other employment.
“I really look up to the ones who are still working. It’s been a year and a half since I did that, and it’s a tough balance. I’m proud of how the whole group has embraced being a professional athlete. Our success will be determined by being patient and best using the short time we have together.”
Matatū lost the last time they played Hurricanes Poua in a pre-season fixture a fortnight ago. This Saturday, they host the capital-based franchise at Nga Puna Wai in Christchurch.
“Ngā Puna Wai is our training base for Canterbury in the FPC. There is a decent-sized grandstand and embankments. It will be a fun, family day out with bouncy castles, face painting, and a carnival-like atmosphere with free entry for girls who are registered rugby players.
“We learned a lot from our pre-season hit out with the Hurricanes. We’ve got some new combinations and more belief. They executed well of our mistakes. It will be a tough one; they’ve got threats right across the park.”
England was the biggest threat to the Black Ferns status as World Champions. Heading into the World Cup final at Eden Park, the Red Roses had won a world record 30 tests in a row, including two thumping’s of New Zealand in the first test series Bremner played. Starting 10 of 12 tests in 2022, Alana was at the forefront of the Black Ferns resurgence.
“It was a whirlwind. The feeling of going from the Northern Tour to Eden Park is hard to put into words. We didn’t have a coach set for months, so what we were able to do was pretty incredible. I learned so much throughout the year from the special people who backed us.”
The Black Ferns backed themselves when it most counted. The last lineout in the final against England is now part of New Zealand sporting folklore. Joanah Ngan-Woo stole the ball, preventing England from launching their much-vaunted lineout drive - a drive that almost certainly would have resulted in the winning try.
“I was part of the last lineout. I got a late lift on Joanah supporting Krystal Murray at the front.
“We didn’t contest as much as we should of. If you don’t go up or half go up, they’re going to maul you and score that try. We’d done a lot of previews that week and had some visual cues but most of them didn’t work out. When Jo saw something and was fully committed we all went up. We knew we had to commit fully, or we’d lose our dream. It’s cool when games come down to those moments like that.”