'I still have people coming up to me': Black Fern Renee Holmes on her World Cup final
Dashing, clinical, and reflective, Renee Holmes is a completely different beast than she was in October last year.
The Black Ferns fullback is now a World Champion and in March scored a record 23 points for Matatu in the Super Rugby Aupiki final against Chiefs Manawa ending the Northerners unbeaten run in the competition.
Few gave Matatu a chance of toppling the defending Aupiki champions in Hamilton, a hypothesis enhanced when the visitors slipped to a 19-0 deficit in as many minutes.
“Within the group, we’d been building belief all season and adamant we were the team that was going to beat Manawa,” Holmes told RugbyPass.
“We only lost to them by eight in the round-robin, scoring the last three tries. Going behind 19-0 obviously wasn’t the ideal start but we hadn’t touched the ball.
“The first time we got the ball we scored a try and reset. Here we go. When we scored again that was crucial. We talked about building scoreboard pressure. Kicking wise, I was going to take anything 40 metres out.”
This attitude was a stark contrast to the round-robin.
Matatu was beaten 24-25 by Hurricanes Poua in Christchurch with Holmes criticised for not taking a handy penalty close to full-time which would have won the hosts the game.
“I felt I wasn’t the right person to take it. Physically, I was exhausted. I’d scored two tries and made 19 carries in that game so I felt my legs wouldn’t have the energy to get the distance,” Holmes admitted.
“I went to our two backup kickers and they weren’t comfortable either, so we went for a lineout. Imagine if we had scored.
“When we didn’t it sucked, and it took me a couple of days to get over it. I felt I’d let the team down. I won’t make that mistake twice.”
Back to the Aupiki final and Holmes nailed three penalties as Matatu stayed ahead of Manawa 33-31, a lead that could have been lost on the last play of the season.
A penalty was conceded by Matatu gifting Tenika Willison a penalty shot 15 meters out to win the title.
“I thought she’d get it. No way she’d miss. We’d run the show for 60 minutes so when the penalty happened, I felt sick. I felt like throwing up on the field.
“I couldn’t believe it when Tenika missed. I went to the left side, furthest from where Tenika placed it. When I saw it coming towards me the relief was enormous.
“My advice for Tenika is that we need to miss the winning kick to get the winning kick. Kickers are a rare breed.
“We’re courageous but we need those bad moments to build diamonds.”
Holmes was far from a diamond in the Black Ferns opening match of the World Cup against Australia at Eden Park on October 8 last year.
The starting fullback was twice skinned by Wallaroos winger Bienne Terita as the hosts slumped to a shock 0-17 disadvantage. Eventually, the Black Ferns won the match, but Holmes admits she had a rough night.
“Never in my whole life had I missed three tackles in a game, let alone three tackles in 20 minutes.
“I think the actual reality of starting a World Cup match got to me. I’ve never been one to really feel pressure, it’s the way I was brought up, but I let the occasion get to me when I needed to have more fun and express myself.
“Smithy (coach Wayne Smith) named the teams for the pool games before the tournament. I didn’t play against Wales which might have looked like I was dropped, but I wasn’t.
“Smithy was honest in his feedback after Australia and so I trained hard before Scotland which went really well.”
Holmes scored 22 points, including two tries, in the 57-0 drubbing of Scotland. By the semi-final against France, she’d caught fire. A try she set up for Ruby Tui early in the second half of a 25-24 victory was one of the defining moments of the tournament.
“I established a cool connection with Ruby and that try was textbook training. It was about having the courage to pull the trigger and being in sync with each other. I saw the fullback in the line, I’d been reading cues, I put the kick in, and Ruby is so fast. That try was huge.”
An even bigger try was the Sky Sport Fan’s Try of the Year scored by Stacey Fluhler in the World Cup final against England. Down at half-time, the length of the field effort was the first strike of the second half in the Black Ferns 34-31 triumph.
Holmes delivered the last pass to Fluhler, a moment Wayne Smith identified as his favourite moment of the decider.
Earlier Holmes thought she’d scored a length of the field try of her own.
“That intercept was the coolest, craziest no-try ever. Looking back, I still get goosebumps. The whole stadium saw it. I still have people coming up to me saying it should have been a try.
“I stretched every limb in my body to get it. When I turned around, celebrating all our players were in our in-goal area. I felt like an idiot.
“That intercept was about showing courage though. If I didn’t go for it, Ellie Kildunne would have scored for England.”
Holmes admits winning the World Cup has “changed her life.” She is more easily recognised and the expectation to perform to an even greater level is higher.
She is presently playing club rugby for High School Old Boys in Christchurch and will relink with Waikato for the Farah Palmer Cup which starts in July.
On June 29 the Black Ferns play their first Test since the World Cup final against Australia in Brisbane.
New coach Alan Bunting recently named former All Black Mike Delany and the relatively unknown Tony Christie as his assistants. Holmes had worked closely with Christie at Matatu.
“I was so happy for TC. I clicked with him right away. He has a huge passion for the game and if didn’t have an answer to a question he’d go away and find it. He does his homework and has a heart of gold.”
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