THE YEAR THAT
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.