Matamata girl ‘living the dream’ playing sevens
Because of her blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin, Brittany Coates stands out against a sea of Fijian women.
However, despite her appearance and thanks to immense skill, the talented athlete has become a valued member of the Fijian women’s rugby sevens team.
The 21-year-old grew up in the Waikato and is currently competing on the international circuit, playing in cities such as Dubai, Brazil and Atlanta. In the next few weeks, Coates and her Fijian team-mates will be playing in London and Amsterdam.
Alongside all this, though, Coates is juggling a degree with a double major in nutrition and psychology, which she is now completing online.
Coates grew up in Matamata and started out as a talented netball player before switching to sevens rugby. She played for the Waikato sevens team before moving to Auckland, where she joined the Ponsonby Rugby Club. She was then selected for the Auckland Storm representative team and says it was this experience that helped her gain skills and confidence, especially in regards to tackling. Along with a few Ponsonby mates, Coates then played for the New Zealand Raiders at the Fiji’s Coral Coast sevens competition.
‘‘We won the bowl final but from that the Fijian women’s coach, he had heard that my dad was born in Fiji and my nana is half Fijian so that qualifies me to be eligible to play for Fiji.
‘‘ He approached me and said he saw me play and he liked what he saw and asked if I wanted to stay an extra week and go to the Fijiana women’s sevens camp because they were preparing to go to Dubai.’’
Coates says she was in shock but she agreed to give it a go.
She stayed the week and did the camp. ‘‘It was hard, just training in Fiji.’’
It was then time for Coates to return home but the coach had other plans. ‘‘He said ‘I want you to come back because I’ve named you in the team to go to Dubai’ ’’.
She says she couldn’t believe it. Dubai was the first tournament and was held in December, when the team finished sixth. Up next up was Brazil, where they won the bowl final against Spain. Weeks later they repeated the result and won against Spain, this time in Atlanta.
Coates returned home to Matamata for a week earlier this month before she headed back to Fiji for two weeks of training. Canada is next before the team travels on to London and Amsterdam.
Coates says the highlight of her experience so far has been the fact she gets to live in Fiji. She now has a better understanding of her family’s culture, she believes. ‘‘I get to experience something that not everyone can.’’
There are no luxuries. The women’s sevens team in Fiji are not paid professional athletes like their counterparts in New Zealand. Coates says they get a little bit of money ‘‘every now and again’’. Sometimes she lives on just bread and tea and yet competes against top athletes from around the world on the international sevens circuit.
‘‘We don’t have the support and funding. That’s hard, because off the field we’re trying to deal with that and on the field we’re trying to play at the level that these professional women are. That’s all they do – play rugby.’’
She says she doesn’t know how she does it and there are certainly challenges, but the experience definitely outweighs the downside. ‘‘I’m loving it ... it’s pretty much a dream come true.’’
Coates and the Fijian team aim to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She believes her team has potential. Coates says she always strives to be fitter, faster and stronger so that she can be the best that she can be. But there are times when she asks herself ‘‘why am I doing this’’ and times when she feels like giving up.
But, she says the team works so hard and she has amazing support, especially from family, friends, coaches and trainers, even those involved in rugby back here in New Zealand, that she can’t give up. ‘‘Everyone wants the best for me, which is quite neat.’’
Former Matamata resident Brittany Coates plays for the Fijian women’s sevens team.