The victorious World Champion Black Ferns arrived home yesterday to crowds, leis, haka, dance and huge celebration about what they have achieved. Their efforts in Ireland at the Women’s Rugby World Cup captured New Zealand hearts. In the final they faced a fully professional English Rugby side who could not match the Black Ferns rugby prowess and ability to get the job done on the day.
So what makes the Black Ferns our most successful rugby team ever?
Black Fern Athletes
First and foremost, let’s celebrate the Black Ferns as outstanding rugby players. Incredibly skillful, accurate in their execution and it is not a mistake they’re the best in the world. There is no dumbing it down for the girl’s attitude here. The Black Ferns are ambassadors for strong, athletic women expressing themselves through their sport.
If you didn’t catch any of their games but read snippets you would have certainly heard about Portia Woodman. Woodman is a try scoring machine. Her eight try effort against Hong Kong was exceptional as was her four try haul in the semi-final against USA. She is a a highly tuned athlete capable of quite freakish things at times.
However, this group is not a one-woman band. It is a team dedicated to all bringing out the best in each other. The likes of midfield player Kelly Brazier, with an electric step and formidable ability to read the game to create opportunities others. Kendra Cocksedge at half back delivering such quality ball with accuracy and pace. Inspirational captain, Fiao’o Fa’amausili’s, skill to deliver at the lineout would have been handy a few years ago in our other national rugby team. The constant work ethic of the pack with the relentless Sarah Goss and the rest of the forwards can be both inspiring and tiring to watch. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the Tokoroa flying prop, Toka Natua, who scored a hatrick of tries in the final.
Professionals in every sense of the word except financially
There is a real sense of professionalism within this team (from an outsider’s perspective) apart from the obvious lack of paycheck or winning bonus. The World Cup campaign consisted of a team within the team from coaching staff, medical staff and other support staff. The campaign was well thought out, meticulously planned and delivered on its outcome to bring the cup home.
Yes the majority of the Black Ferns (besides those six players who on NZ Sevens contracts) will soon return to their day jobs. They are policewomen, teachers, mothers, rugby development officers and more. Living a dual life juggling the demands of a professional career and as a professional sportswomen.
Just because the majority of the girls are not contracted does not mean they give anything less of themselves in their preparation to be the best. It’s almost like it helps drive them to do extra. Theres a saying I’ve been aware of for a while in sport psych circles that to fully blossom ‘talent needs trauma’, perhaps the relative hardship of the amateur athlete is part of the resilience that makes the Black Ferns so hard to beat. Certainly it is in stark contrast to the likes of the fully supported English Roses.
The reality of the Black Ferns days as professionals
Days for the Black Ferns are long fitting both a job and training in around work. As a Team the players get the work done in their regions, sometimes individually, and being regionally based they have limited time together as a collective unit. Individually they have incredible support networks in their own families and employers to help them get what they need to get done. However, by the end of the week every Black Fern is shattered from trying to do it all. This is the reality of the New Zealand Black Fern.
Former Black Fern and world cup winner, Shannon Willoughby, remarks that “the first players had such a tough time with so little support (the first World Cup they went to they weren’t even affiliated with the NZRU!) and put in a lot of hard work to help become a world class team.” The Black Ferns embrace a different kind of professionalism which is far from amateurish but a long way from fully professional.
The mana of the Black Ferns
The ethos of the Black Ferns sets this team apart. They embrace all cultures involved within the team and all the cultures of the nations they are in. A huge part of that to me is they’re celebrating who they are, those who have helped them get to this point and those who have helped weave their journey to date. Whether it’s through a rousing and fierce haka, through Pacific song and dance or contemporary kiwi music this team embraces all in an inclusive manner.
The legacy of the black jersey cannot be underestimated. Two-time world champion Black Fern, Tammi Wilson Uluinayau, describes the Black Fern legacy as something unique and defining of the pride in wearing the black jersey. “By earning the honour of representing your country and to become a part of that legacy is something really special”, says Wilson. The pride developed through the legacy of those who have gone before them is certainly a factor driving the success of the team.
The depth of friendship within the team creates bonds on the field where the players will empty themselves for their teammates and management. It’s simple. They have a genuine love for each other, they love rugby and have tremendous respect for the Black Ferns who have paved the way before them.
Where to next?
Launched in 2014 It’s our Game: Women’s Rugby Strategy 2015-2021 aims to harness the growing popularity of rugby among girls and women. Is there a better time than right now?
New Zealand has fallen in love with the Black Ferns in the last few weeks because they have been visible and obviously very successful. Rugby unites our country regardless of where you grew up and what job you have or whether you sit or stand up to pee! It brings us together. The Black Ferns have again brought our country together and I hope their programme can be more supported going forward.
Regardless whether the Team receive more funding or not there’s no denying the heart of this team will remain true to their winning ways. Congratulations Black Ferns for showing us your way and being the best at what you do because of it.