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'It's a bit weird': Black Ferns star reacts to NZ's best 'honour'

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

Black Ferns co-captain Ruahei Demant said it feels “a bit weird” to have been crowned New Zealand’s best rugby player at the 2022 ASB Rugby Awards on Thursday.

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Out of all the stars at the prestigious annual awards, the World Cup winning flyhalf was able to shine brightest as she took home three individual honours following a career-best campaign.

The star pivot, who was the Player of the Match in Octobers World Cup final at Eden Park, was named the Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year and Black Ferns Player of the Year.

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But Demant well and truly stole the show as she was awarded the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year, which recognises the best player in New Zealand.

Speaking with Brendan Telfer on The Platform, Demant described how much of an “honour” it was for her to receive the prestigious accolade.

“It’s a bit weird, I can’t think of a better word to describe it,” Demant said.

“It’s just strange because we play these team sports and we don’t do it to receive any individual accolades because you’re always working together with the team.

“To be recognised and receive such a prestigious award, not only that but also Maori Player of the Year is a huge honour for me and my whanau (family).”

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The Black Ferns were able to inspire New Zealanders like never before during their incredible World Cup run which ended with a thrilling win over World No. 1 England at Eden Park.

Star players including Ruby Tui, Sarah Hirini and Stacey Fluhler showcased their skill and passion on the field of play, and were able to connect with their fans in a truly ground-breaking manner off it as well.

As the tournament went on, and the highly anticipated semi-final matchups neared, the support for the team continued to grow like never before.

A sold-out Eden Park in the semi-final between the Black Ferns and France was incredible – truly fascinating scenes that reminded all rugby fans of the All Blacks’ triumph over Les Bleus 11 years earlier.

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But the final at New Zealand’s home of rugby transcended what was once believed to be possible, as more than 42,000 fans packed the stands – and made their voice heard as well.

The stunning atmosphere throughout the World Cup was one thing, but the way the Black Ferns have been able to inspire Aotearoa – even now – can’t be ignored.

As Demant said, she “wrongly thought” the support for New Zealand’s women’s team would’ve gone “away” after the final.

“The attention that our team especially received over the World Cup, I wrongly thought that that would probably go away once the World Cup finished and it hasn’t which is again a really privileged position for many of us in our team to be in,” she added.

“Not only as players but (as) real ambassadors for the game and role models for not just young girls but young boys in our community.

“We’re very privileged.”

The Black Ferns dared to dream ahead of the World Cup, as they looked to bounce back from a disastrous end-of-season tour less than a year before it.

But playing on home soil, the team refused to give up – and the passion, confidence and bravery was infectious.

The biggest takeaway from the tournament that was though is how ground-breaking it was for women’s rugby, as young girls watched their heroes take the field at the famous Eden Park.

“I think one of the unique characteristics that women’s rugby has as opposed to men’s rugby is firstly, there’s a much smaller number of females that play rugby in New Zealand,” she added.

“Because of that, especially when it comes to women’s rugby, there’s a massive drop off after school girls rugby.

“It’s very common for players, regardless of their age or experience levels, to come to your club training and be training alongside Black Ferns.

“That passion for the grassroots level of rugby, that willingness to give back to your community, to go out into your communities, into the schools, into the clubs who may be struggling… you often have players giving back in other ways that stay involved with the game long after they’ve finished playing.

“It’s been an example that’s been set by many players who have gone before us even now, and is the example that is continued to be set and followed by many of the players who are involved.”

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