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Portia Woodman-Wickliffe among three history-making women at SVNS LAX

By Finn Morton
Portia Woodman-Wickliffe of New Zealand, Sharni Smale of Australia and Chloe Pelle of France. Photos by Will Russell/Getty Images, Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images and DON MACKINNON/AFP via Getty Images

Australia’s Sharni Smale, Chloe Pelle from France and New Zealander Portia Woodman-Wickliffe have all been celebrated as true pioneers of women’s rugby on the SVNS Series.

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The world-class trio join an exclusive list of legendary women’s rugby players who have played 50 international tournaments, with all three reaching that milestone in Los Angeles on Friday.

Before the SVNS event at Dignity Health Sports Park, only three women had ever reached a half-century of tournaments in sevens. That number has now doubled.

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Smale, Pelle and Woodman-Wickliffe were all signalled out and congratulated as they officially brought up the momentous milestone at SVNS LAX.

Following in the footsteps of long-time teammate Charlotte Caslick who reached the marker in Vancouver, Australia’s Smale was the first to reach the milestone this week.

The Australian ran out onto the field about 10 seconds before any of her teammates or Irish opponents, and Smale’s fellow Australians made sure to make it a day to remember.

Ahead of Smale’s birthday on Saturday, the Australians got their SVNS LAX campaign off to a perfect start with a 36-nil demolition of Perth champions Ireland.

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But putting the result aside, a proud yet humble Smale compared the achievement to Australia’s cricketing heroes raising “the bat up” when they race a half-century.

“After celebrating Charlotte, to really be able to stand alongside her – she’s just changed the game and I’ve been there from the first tournament to her 50th tournament,” Smale told RugbyPass

“To now be alongside her and say that I’ve played 50 tournaments is something that we look at in Australia. You look at the baggy green, you hold that bat up and say thank you for your time and thank you for everybody that appreciated us along the way.

“If we look back at 2014, we’ve had some milestones there for women to finally get fully paid, so I’ve been there for that,” Smale added.

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“I’ve been there for the coat of arms to finally be on women’s jerseys, the equal pay system, our pregnancy policy… I’ve seen where it’s come from.

“Being in this new team, being able to blood some of those girls and go, ‘Hey, it wasn’t always like this.’ They find a bit more respect.

“When you just love the game, you love the sport – it’s created my identify, it’s made me who I am. A small country kid from Batlow, 1500 people, to finally be out here in the word and spreading love and who I am from my LGBTQI+ community.

“It’s Mardi Gras today well, it’s my birthday in Australia, it’s 50 (tournaments). There’s so much to celebrate in life and I think when you can be really present, I think those good things come to you.”

Chloe Pelle was next. Pelle was met with a loud cheer as she made her way onto the field ahead of France’s clash with an always-dangerous Japan side in the second game of the tournament.

But France, who finished second behind New Zealand in Vancouver, continued their purple patch of form with a 35-7 victory. Again, it was a great way to celebrate the occasion.

After Brazil’s surprise 12-5 win over Fiji, Woodman-Wickliffe was the third and final member of this history-making trio to make their way out onto the field by themselves.

The Black Ferns Sevens went on to win their opening match against South Africa 41-5, which included doubles to both Shiray Kaka and Kelsey Teneti.

But while her teammates raced to the changerooms ahead of a commemorative haka for their legendary teammate, Woodman-Wickliffe stopped to talk with RugbyPass about the achievement.

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“It’s massive but I kind of just wanted to get that first game done,” Woodman-Wickliffe said. “Now I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s just a normal tournament, I don’t want it to be talked about.

“I think to put a performance out like that was pretty cool.

“Seeing it last week with Charlotte (Caslick), did Sharni (Smale) do it as well with her 50th tournament? That’s really awesome, I love that.

“I wanted to go in the front but with everyone else behind me, but it was cool.”

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