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‘There were lots of happy tears at the final whistle-we beat the Black Ferns in their backyard'

By Rosie Galligan
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 04: Rosie Galligan of England during the WXV1 match between New Zealand Silver Ferns and England at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart on November 04, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

It is 2.30 am and I am up writing my last column for the WXV campaign with severe jet lag. A feeling I am not very well accustomed to as I am not an early bird! However, I lay here with a massive sense of pride and happiness after winning the inaugural competition and beating the Black Ferns in their backyard.

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Throughout the week leading up to the match, you could tell there was a bit more uncertainty and apprehension from both the coaches and players. The coaches felt even more switched on and detailed, and our training was top-notch with everyone fully focused.

Having lost the World Cup final in Auckland last year there were definitely some emotionally driven players. This wasn’t a revenge match like the media painted it out to be, but for us, it was about showing ourselves that we are good enough and that we are the best in the world.

We followed our normal training week. We installed skills on Monday, beat each other up in our contact blocks on Tuesday, had our fast day on Thursday and Captain’s Run on Friday. It was the best training week we have had to date.

The last 11 weeks of hard work and sacrifices we have all made were all going to be worth it come game day! Although we saw all the weather elements throughout the tournament, we had not yet trained in the rain. The heavens opened at Captain’s Run and let’s just say, it felt like you were swimming. My highlight of the session was the slip and slide we created. We slid like penguins through the puddles and even managed to convince all the staff to get involved. A memory that will last a lifetime.

The game plan was to play with freedom and be brave – a key theme that we have tried to express throughout the tournament. As a coaching and player group, we want to focus on bringing out the best versions of ourselves as rugby players and being able to move a ball around.

We want to play an exciting style of rugby with variety in how we score. With that freedom, we also had to make sure we were in control and stayed in control of the game for the entirety. One thing that Deacs [Louis Deacon] said was that it’s not going to be about the final result, there are going to have to be lots of little moments in the game that we win in order to come out on top, because there was bound to be times where New Zealand came back into the game.

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We spoke about our identity and wanting to be the best defensive team. I think our defence has come on so much over the last three months and we have become a force to be reckoned with in that area. We didn’t want to let their key players into the game and I think we did that quite well nullifying star players such as Ruby Tui and Ruahei Demant.

In terms of our attack, we wanted to play. We planned to get out of pressure areas and attack in the right parts of the pitch. We wanted to use our set piece as a weapon and unleash the backs when the timing was right.

It was my first time playing against New Zealand. I fell just short in selection for the World Cup final last year and that really hit me hard. It made me feel like I wasn’t trusted in the biggest game in the tournament, so it made me doubt myself for a little bit after the tournament.

However, this time round, being in a starting shirt against New Zealand was a massive personal reward for me. That’s something that I’d worked really hard for – a proud ‘I did it’ moment.

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Witnessing the haka on the pith was incredible. Throughout the tournament, we found out lots about the Maori  traditions and what New Zealand is like. If you’re facing a haka it’s a sign of respect and shows the importance of the occasion. For the Black Ferns, it’s about preparing themselves mentally and physically to go to battle.

When you’re stood opposite it can be a little daunting at first, but then you set your eyes on someone, stand tall and embrace the feeling and it makes you feel empowered. You feel the grip of your teammates around your shoulders as you pull tighter to unite together. We have done a lot of work on ‘belonging’ and in that moment I felt like we were ‘One’.

Once that whistle went I was back to rugby mode. We controlled the game really well and although they scored, it didn’t feel like they were getting under our skin.

We had a few kickers including Holly Aitchison who had a fantastic kicking game, but we also had the likes of Sarah Bern, Zoe Aldcroft, Alex Matthews, and Marlie Packer who all carried and did a lot around the park. Everyone did their job on the day and knew what they wanted to come away with and I think that showed.

Marlie took over as captain from Sarah Hunter during the Women’s Six Nations earlier this year and it’s really nice to be able to see her flourish in her captaincy. She thoroughly deserves World Rugby Player of the Year. People don’t really see everything she does off the pitch and how hard she does work, so being given an award that not many people can say they have won, she should be really happy with. Alongside that, 99 caps for your country is an incredible achievement and the icing on the cake will be when she receives that 100th cap, most likely in the Six Nations next year.

It was a great feeling lifting the trophy, a lot of emotions. Everyone took a sigh of relief once that whistle had gone. There was one time in the game where New Zealand had scored and we were under the sticks and Berner [Sarah Bern] said: “We’re not having a repeat of last year, let’s go and get it.” That stuck with everyone. That’s when you could see people’s real emotions come out. There were a lot of happy tears at the final whistle.

We then had a really good night out celebrating. It was Jess Breach’s birthday as well so we made sure that she had a good night.

The introduction of the WXV tournament has been hugely beneficial for us. We felt like we had three challenging games and the standard of rugby on show was exceptional. Australia put some fantastic results out which surprised a lot of people – but I think it’s really refreshing to know that come 2025 there could be different teams in the mixer for those top four quarter-final spots!

With the World Cup last year there was a massive buzz around Auckland, but this time for WXV it didn’t really feel the same. The one thing that probably let the tournament down was the attendance figures in the crowds. For us, that was a bit of a disappointment because we thought that the reasoning for going back to New Zealand was to keep the legacy of the World Cup alive.

That was the one thing that we would like to see done better in the future as we know we can get tens of thousands in stadiums now. You look at the 42,579-strong crowd at the World Cup final and the 58,498 people at Twickenham for England against France earlier this year in the Six Nations, our expectations have now increased. Going back to New Zealand and to stadiums that have only got a few thousand in was a bit deflating.

The news of the new Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby season being broadcasted on TNT Sports (formerly BT Sport) was refreshing. It’s a massive step forward for the women’s game, making it more accessible and giving it the spotlight it deserves.

It’s definitely a product that is watchable, and I think having live matches available each weekend will draw new fans into the game. I’m really excited to get back to Saracens now. I haven’t spent much time there yet this season, so I’m excited to get back out at Stone X in black and red with the girls.

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