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Redemption Ireland: Can the Black Ferns win their fifth Rugby World Cup?

Thursday 3rd August 2017

No days off.

 

Fiao'o Fa'amausili.
Fiao'o Fa'amausili.

Photo: Photosport

The Black Ferns have redemption on their minds when the Rugby World Cup kicks off in a week’s time.

New Zealand had won four in a row before the 2014 tournament, where the team crashed out of contention in pool play in a shock loss to Ireland.

This year’s edition is captain and hooker Fiao'o Fa'amausili’s fifth World Cup, an incredible feat even Richie McCaw didn’t accomplish.

The Wireless caught up with Fa'amausili, who works as a police officer, just before the team boarded a flight to Ireland. She’s a previous nominee for World Rugby Player of the Year, and last month the Police Association named her its sportsperson of the year.

She says the Ferns are better prepared than ever to lift rugby’s biggest trophy.

What was the focus at the team’s final training session?

Just about covering our game plan. We’re still just gelling everything together. We finished on a high and there’s a great, buzzy feeling around the camp.

I heard all the players did a group rendition of the song ‘Tootsee Roll’. Is that a tradition?

Haha, yeah that’s what we do. We all dance at the end of our trainings. We get into it and have a bit of fun.

What’s the support been like from NZ Rugby?

We’ve definitely been given more resources. More resources in terms of games leading into the tournament, more time to prepare in camps and more coaching being available at our regional teams. Even though we’re not together all year round, we work hard in our own regions and in such a way that when we all come together, we’re on the same page.

The side was bounced early from the 2014 World Cup. Does that still get talked about much?

We’ve sat around having a coffee and spoken about it. But the feeling in this camp at the moment is totally different to back then. We’re all on a high. Everyone is communicating. Everyone is listening. We’re all on the same page.

We had a great team three years ago, you can’t deny that, but we took the competition too lightly and it just happened that we were disappointed in one of the pool games. We’ve learned from that and we don’t want to have that feeling again. So we’ll be playing every game like it’s our last.

All but one player work a regular job. Is it difficult to juggle that with games and competitions?

It is difficult, but I’ve been doing it for a long time and so I’ve gotten used to it. There are things you have to push aside so you’ve just got your main two goals, which is your work that pays the bills, and your passion - rugby. It’s been really difficult, but I have been lucky to have had support from both NZ Police and my family, and also NZ Rugby.

Fiao'o Fa'amausili charges in training.
Fiao'o Fa'amausili charges in training.

Photo: Photosport

Are there skills that translate from the beat to the field?

Most definitely. In the police, we have the same values that we have in the team - professionalism and integrity - the things you require as a New Zealand athlete. As well as being a captain and leading a team, the police helps with the mental toughness side of things. You go into a difficult situation in a job and have to think on your feet and solve issues on the spot, which is what you have to do in rugby.

Since debuting for NZ in 2002, how have you seen the team and women’s rugby develop?

It’s grown so much. A lot more females are playing rugby at all ages. More schoolgirls are choosing to play over less physical sports like netball and I hear a lot more girls saying things like, “when I grow up, I want to be a Black Fern”. This is such a massive thing and shows the progress.

Media exposure of the team has slowly gotten better, especially with the development of the Sevens team, but it still needs to be put out there more. This is a sport that is only going to get bigger and I’m really looking forward to the next few years.

Do you see a time when the Ferns won’t have to work regular jobs?

I hope so. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a professional athlete, but it hasn’t happened for me. I hope it will for these girls coming through. It’s become a contracted sport for the Sevens so it is possible. I’m sure with the number of women playing and wanting to represent New Zealand, it will become a paid profession.

How does domestic rugby compare with overseas?

I reckon our provincial quality is miles better than overseas. When I went and played in England earlier in my career, New Zealand players were two steps ahead. That’s how I like to think New Zealand rugby is as well - two steps ahead. We breed rugby here. New Zealand is so passionate about the sport.

NZ and England are the overwhelming favourites to win the cup. Can you beat them?

We definitely can. We lost to them the last time we played them but it wasn’t a hiding. A big reason was our own mistakes. It’s stuff that can be easily fixed. We really want to play them and beat them. We’ve just got to make sure our game is on point when we do.

You’ve got Wales, Hong Kong and Canada in pool play. Which team poses the biggest threat?

We’ve played Canada quite a bit and they are a strong team. They will probably pose the biggest threat. In saying that, we’ve never played Hong Kong, so it will be quite a challenge going into that game not knowing anything about our opponents. We played Wales at the last World Cup and we know they’re a tough team. [Despite winning one game], we watched them at the Six Nations and we know they’re strong. It’s difficult to pick one team out as the biggest threat. They’ll all be tough.

Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on?

We’ve got Theresa Fitzpatrick who has just come into the team. She’s a great young talent. Aotearoa (Katie) Mata'u has just come back from injury and is a terrific young prop. Our backline in general has a lot of spark and x-factor, while our forwards can run like our backs. It’s tough to point people out - the team is so much greater than the individual.

The Black Ferns kick off their World Cup campaign against Wales early on Friday August 11.



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Max is a journalist who has worked for The Star, Bleacher Report and RNZ News.
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