'Brought New Zealand together': How the Black Ferns have inspired a nation
The Black Ferns’ World Cup opener at Eden Park against rivals Australia was a momentous occasion not just for the team or even women’s rugby, but for the country as well.
Rugby fans packed the stands at Auckland’s famous stadium in their thousands, and cheered on the home team as they got their title defence off to a winning start.
Black Ferns stars including Ruby Tui, Kendra Cocksedge and Sarah Hirini continued to embody their roles as inspirational pioneers for the next generation, who were watching on from the stands or at home on their TVs.
While the women in black got off to a disastrous start against the Wallaroos, going behind 17-nil inside half an hour, the passion from the crowd and the significance of the occasion spurred the team on to a famous victory.
Just 12-months ago this team was well up against it – having lost four Test matches against England and France by emphatic margins on their end-of-season tour.
But under the tutelage of rugby guru Wayne Smith, this team has turned their fortunes around and rightfully deserves their spot in the final two.
As Crusaders champion halfback Hall discussed on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, New Zealand rugby fans have “been through their journey with them” over the last year.
“It’s the mannerisms that they’re showing, whether it be the National Anthem and smiling and looking around at the occasion,” Hall said.
“You look at the opening ceremony, pretty much a fully packed-out Eden Park.
“This is what they’ve wanted. Women’s rugby has needed this and they’re constantly been saying that they want to be given opportunities to play in meaningful Test matches.
“I think that’s one thing that’s really brought New Zealand together is around the way that they’re playing, the attacking brand of rugby that they’re playing at the moment is really exciting.
“I look 12 months ago and the brand of rugby that they were playing, it wasn’t that great to be able to watch… we feel like we’ve been through their journey with them, not just at the World Cup.
“I think you just see that as well with the enjoyment and the message that they’re giving throughout the media.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 9, 2022
“How can you not want to be supporting them and getting right behind them as a New Zealand supporter.
“I’m all in and I really hope that the Eden Park shows out there and it’s a full packed stadium, and I actually think it will with the brand of rugby they’re playing at the moment.”
It’s undeniable that this is the biggest and best women’s Rugby World Cup yet, and the prospect of more countries becoming professional in the future is extremely exciting for the sport.
If it’s smiling during the anthems or signing autographs with fans, these players are paving the way for unparalleled growth.
“We’ve got to make sure that as the women’s game gets more and more professional, that we bottle what we’re seeing and what it represents,” Parsons said.
“Over time, especially off the back of this World Cup, the women’s game is just going to skyrocket in terms of opportunities to be playing more and going towards more of a full-time program.
“It’s making sure that we never lose sight of these images and these feelings that these players are getting to feel as probably been the pioneers off the back of a lot of players’ work previous to them.
“You look at a lot of the ex-Black Ferns in the crowd, you can see the pure joy in their face and gratitude for where the women’s games got to, and that’s only going to grow.
“I think there’s an opportunity for the male game to look at the female game and remember what it’s all about; it is that love and joy for playing this game, and learning form that.”
After surviving a scare against the Wallaroos, which Ruby Tui said she wasn’t too concerned about at the time, the Black Ferns went on to score 209 points during their first four Tests.
But their biggest challenge so far was waiting for them in the semi-final.
During their Northern Tour to England and France last year, the Black Ferns were well beaten by their semi-final opponents on both occasions.
"If the Roses' engine takes too long to fire up, it could be like watching a car crash in slow motion."
– @bensmithrugby on the World Cup final between New Zealand and England. #RWC2021 #NZLvENG https://t.co/dFhvd1atlh
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 9, 2022
Last November, the Black Ferns lost to France 38-13 in Pau, before losing again a week later 29-7 in Castres.
With history not in their favour, last week’s semi-final against France was a landmark occasion for women’s rugby in Aotearoa.
Reminiscent of the All Blacks’ World Cup triumph over Les Bleus at the same stadium 11 years earlier, New Zealand rugby fans held their breath as their team fought hard for a one-point victory.
“The growth that we’ve seen in them the last 12 months from when they had that end-of-year tour, they’ve come through with new coaching regime, they’ve gone through that little period of time getting Test matches before the World Cup,” Hall also mentioned.
“Now you can see New Zealand’s really right behind them, and I think we all want that climax of having that opportunity to play the English.
“If we’re looking at that Canadian match as well, they’re very, very lucky to get away with that result.
“I think that the Test they had against the French and getting through that, I think it’s going to set them up very nicely for this English team.
“To be honest, if we get it right and having that pressure in the moments that we had to get through… I think it sets us up very, very well for a final at Eden Park in front of a full packed stadium.”
History beckons for the Black Ferns, with rugby immortality potentially just 80-minutes away – but it doesn’t get any tougher than the Red Roses.
England are the world’s best team and rightfully deserve that moniker, having marched into the final on the back of a 30-Test winning streak.
But the Black Ferns have shown that the form book can be irrelevant in these big Test matches, as a stadium of five million prepares to get behind their team once again.
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