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'Too painful to watch': Portia Woodman opens up about concussion in RWC final

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The Black Ferns’ incredible World Cup triumph last year will go down in history as one of the greatest moments in New Zealand sporting history.

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But while the Black Ferns won the day, it didn’t all go to plan.

Less than a year on from their disastrous end-of-season tour to England and France, the Black Ferns dared to dream of rugby immortality – and captured the hearts of a nation in the process.

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After beating rivals France in a thrilling semi-final at Eden Park, the Black Ferns had earnt the right to etch their names into rugby folklore.

Playing against World No. 1 England, who were on a 30-test unbeaten streak going into the decider, rugby fans young and old packed the stands at the famous venue.

But the visitors had seemingly silenced a vibrant New Zealand crowd early in the decider, as they raced out to a 14-nil lead before disaster struck.

One of New Zealand’s star players was carted off the field about 15 minutes into the final after suffering a shocking concussion, which saw England winger Lydia Thompson red carded.

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Star winger Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, who married former Black Fern Renee Wickliffe last month, has described rewatching the final as both “painful” and “scary.”

“That night, I was wide awake and didn’t really want to go to sleep, so I just watched to glance it over,” Woodman-Wickliffe told Stuff.

“I haven’t watched it too many times, kind of a bit too painful to watch, scary that it was me that got knocked out, and gutted that I missed out on such an incredible game like that.

“All I remember is pretty much when I got to come out onto the field and celebrate with the girls.

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“Smithy (Wayne Smith) came to me after the game, he was like, ‘do you remember much of that game?’ I was like, ‘nah, not really, Smithy.’

“He goes, ‘you were playing an absolute blinder in the first 15 minutes’, and I was like ‘no, don’t tell me that!’ If I had been playing a c*** game it would have been a bit easier to take.”

A small rugby mad nation at the bottom of the world were champions once more. New Zealand burst into a frenzy as the Black Ferns recorded a valiant 34-31 win at Eden Park.

Celebrations continued across Aotearoa for the next couple of weeks – but Woodman-Wickliffe wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as her teammates.

“With a concussion, drinking, loud noise, all of that sort of stuff just isn’t good for your brain because it just needs to rest,” she added.

“The bar where they had set up a celebration with family and friends, I went there for a little bit, didn’t enjoy it, just wanted to stay away from people, and so I just went home.

“That was about me for the next two weeks. I didn’t really get to celebrate because any time I left the house I would get a headache.

“I wasn’t irritable or angry, normally I’m quite an expressive person, and during those two weeks I was very numb and nothing really went on, nothing made me angry, nothing made me happy, it was quite weird. I was tired a lot.

“When I was ready to celebrate, all the girls had just finished a two-week celebration, so I didn’t have many mates to party with because they were all too sick and tired.”

Woodman-Wickliffe has done It all in both rugby sevens and fifteens.

As well as scoring the most tries by any player at the last two World Cups, Woodman-Wickliffe has also enjoyed a decorated career in the shorter format of the sport.

“It gets to a point where you are thinking, ‘why am I here, what am I doing?’

“Ten years ago I was playing rugby because it was an Olympic sport. I’ve played there twice, got a silver and a gold.

“Now, I pack my bag in the morning and I find this little moment of, ‘do I really love this still, do I really want to do this? This is becoming monotonous.’

“But as soon as I stepped out onto that field to train on the 5th, I loved being around the girls, I love the environment, I love the skillset, the challenge that sevens brings.

“Ultimately the goal is to try and get to the 2024 Olympics, but each day I’m just really enjoying the moment.

“With my injuries, too, I lost two years, and then a year with Covid. I lost three years with my team.

“That whole environment of sevens I really still enjoy. As soon as I stop enjoying it and I don’t like being out on the field, that’s when I’d probably look to hang the boots up, because that’s when your heart’s not quite in it.”

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