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'I thought that they were joking': Demant reflects on shock captaincy call-up and World Cup

By Ned Lester
Ruahei Demant fronts media after the 2021 Rugby World Cup final. Photo by Andy Jackson - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant has reflected on her incredible 2022, chronicling her journey through receiving the captaincy role and leading the revamped women in black to the 2021 Rugby World Cup Title.

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Having started the year without even having a leadership role within the team, Demant admits she was not just taken back by the appointment of captaincy, but she thought Wayne Smith and co were joking when they revealed their decision.

The fly-half told SENZ the tale of surprise and what it took for her to make the role her own.

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“I remember when they told me that I was captain and we were all sitting in the room,” Demant recalled. “We were talking about selection, (that was) what the meeting was about and it was selection regarding our first tour which was our Pac Four tour that was in June.

“They started talking about leadership and I thought, ‘Oh, you know, maybe I’m going to be in the leadership group, (that’s) why they’re talking about this,’ and then yeah, they said we want you to be the captain and I was really taken aback.

“I didn’t expect it at all. I thought that they were joking, to be honest.

“I never, ever thought that I could captain a team like the Black Ferns, and then to have the honour to ring Kennedy and ask her if she wanted to co-captain the team, and then to go and lead the team alongside her throughout our home World Cup was such a crazy ride and I really couldn’t have done it without her.”

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Demant’s trophy cabinet will be looking significantly fuller at the end of 2022 compared to just a few months prior, having picked up the World Cup trophy, player of the match for the World Cup Final, World Rugby Women’s 15’s Player of the Year, Black Ferns Player of the Year, the Tom French Memorial M?ori Player of the Year and the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial New Zealand Player of the Year.

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Advice and support from former captains in Les Elder and Fiao’o Fa’amausili set Demant up for success, as she was told “you’ve been named captain for a reason, you may think that you have to do something else but you don’t need to change anything, just be yourself.”

Demant said she held onto that advice, knowing that her team responded more to actions rather than words and so her goals were to lead by example in her fitness and on-field effort.

The addition of long-time Black Ferns Sevens coach Allan Bunting to Wayne Smith’s coaching staff in the role of Manager of Culture and Leadership also had a strong impact on Demant’s attitude towards captaincy, as Bunting helped lead the shift towards the Black Ferns environment being a people-first culture.

Bunting’s relationship with the Sevens players within the team was another example of the power of respect in leadership, with Demant remarking on how the conversations between Bunting and the likes of Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui and Sarah Hirini were all two-way streets, citing Bunting’s modesty and respect for the players as a foundation for productive conversation, even if there were disagreements.

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The team’s attitude towards accountability made life easier for the captain, but coach Wayne Smith’s game plan compensated for that as the relentless attacking intent made leading from the front lung-busting work.

“A lot of people thought that we were playing (with) flare and we called it back-yard footy, but it was just hard work camouflaged as that and you had to be really really fit to play his style of game.”

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