THE YEAR THAT

Louisa Wall

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In 1998 I was in the Black Ferns team that won the first Women’s Rugby World Cup. I had an in­ter­est­ing his­tory in rugby. I had played as a 5-year-old for my dad’s old club but at the end of the sea­son, when they re­alised I was a girl, I wasn’t al­lowed to play any­more. I started play­ing again in 1995 and made the Black Ferns.

I’d come from play­ing net­ball for New Zealand. That was a huge priv­i­lege and I re­ally en­joyed it. The big dif­fer­ence be­tween rugby and net­ball for me was that net­ball was re­stric­tive and pre­scrip­tive and rugby was free and you could ex­press your­self out­side the set pieces.

My whole pas­sion for rugby came through my fa­ther. He was one of those men who got up in the mid­dle of the night to watch a game if the All Blacks were play­ing. He would be just yelling at the tele­vi­sion and com­pletely ob­sessed.

I would stay up and watch with him and I would un­der­stand the play­ers and the tac­tics. So for me rugby is very much linked with that re­la­tion­ship.

Once we were se­lected, we said: “What do we want to achieve?” And we all wanted to win the Rugby World Cup. “Okay, how will we do it?” We set our own team rules and they were about re­spect­ing one an­other. We cre­ated a frame­work that meant if we im­ple­mented all those things the out­come would take care of it­self.

It was the best team I’ve ever been in be­cause ev­ery­one was 100 per cent fo­cused and com­mit­ted. We made a de­ci­sion we wouldn’t drink al­co­hol be­cause it would limit our abil­ity to be suc­cess­ful. My mem­ory of the whole time is of com­mit­ted pas­sion­ate women who re­ally wanted to win.

The first game we played, against Ger­many, we com­pletely dom­i­nated and it was a real trounc­ing: 100-plus to nil. It was funny be­cause we turned up in black gear, had amaz­ing black jack­ets and ev­ery­one turned and looked at us. We had an aura about us. And we re­alised there was still a lot of his­tory Euro­pean coun­tries had about Ger­mans, so they cheered us on. It was like a home match for us.

Win­ning the World Cup was re­ally sat­is­fy­ing. We were eu­phoric. We per­formed our haka at the end. I had al­ways con­tended rugby purists don’t care who plays be­cause they love the game, but we ob­vi­ously had a lot of peo­ple who didn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate how women could play rugby, and there were prob­a­bly some con­ser­va­tive at­ti­tudes that women did the af­ter­noon tea and washed jer­seys.

A lot of peo­ple, I think, saw for the first time that women could play rugby.

When I think back to be­ing banned as a 5-year-old, we’d come a long way.

None of my fam­ily was able to come over to watch any matches. There were fi­nan­cial con­straints. I’ve got three younger sib­lings. They just couldn’t af­ford it.

I came back and gave my dad my medal. He was so proud.

We ended up gift­ing some of what I col­lected at the World Cup to the Taupo sub union, where the man who banned me when I was 5 has a park named af­ter him — my jer­seys are now at Owen De­laney park in a cabi­net re­served for play­ers who’ve achieved.

My whole pas­sion for rugby came through my fa­ther. He was one of those men who got up in the mid­dle of the night to watch a game if the All Blacks were play­ing.

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