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Sarah Hirini’s tribute to retiring ‘legend’ Portia Woodman-Wickliffe

By Finn Morton
Portia Woodman and Sarah Hirini of the New Zealand Black Ferns pose for a portrait after winning the Rugby World Cup 2021 final match between New Zealand and England at Eden Park, on November 12, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Black Ferns Sevens veteran Sarah Hirini has paid tribute to teammate Portia Woodman-Wickliffe after it was revealed the “absolute legend” would retire from international rugby after the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris.

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Woodman-Wickliffe is one of the greatest to have laced up rugby boots. Immortalised in the history books as a record-breaking trailblazer in the women’s game, the legacy that the bulldozing winger leaves behind cannot be underestimated.

Since making the switch over from netball and debuting on the inaugural women’s sevens circuit in 2012, the New Zealander has enjoyed one of the most decorated careers in rugby. In both sevens and 15s, there is almost no accolade Woodman-Wickliffe hasn’t touched.

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The New Zealander has scored the most tries in women’s and men’s Rugby World Cups with 20 and sets the benchmark on the SVNS Series with 256. Earlier this year in Los Angeles, Woodman-Wickliffe joined a select few by playing her 50th international sevens event.

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Woodman-Wickliffe has also been recognised as the Sevens Player of the Year in 2015, named the top sevens player of the decade in 2020, and has also received the 15s Player of the Year honour on two occasions in 2017 and 2020.

But the two-time Olympic medallist, who helped the New Zealand women’s side claim their first gold at the postponed Tokyo Games in 2021, will hang up the boots in just a matter of weeks. That news was enough for Sarah Hirini in tear up.

“Yeah, I’m getting a little bit emotional when you said that. It’s one of my best mates,” Hirini told RugbyPass on Tuesday a few hours after Woodman-Wickliffe’s retirement was announced.

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“Knowing that it will be her last, to be honest every time she talks about it I’m just like, ‘Boo!’ I don’t want it to happen.

“But she’ll be someone who won’t get replicated ever again. She’s probably a once-in-a-generation athlete.

“I remember back in the day, 2012, she left a netball camp, came to our camp and absolutely carved [up], she was just a freak and has just grown from that. Has played rugby that I don’t think anyone could ever do again.

“The hardest thing about her is she’s fast but also so strong that. Even at trainings no one wants to defend her because she’s either going to run over the top of you or run around you.

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“[She’s] done everything, has tried everything and just been, I think, an absolute legend for our sport.”

If there’s one moment which sums up the influence and impact that Woodman-Wickliffe has had as a rugby player, look no further than the SVNS Series Grand Final. On the other side of the world in the Spanish capital of Madrid, the New Zealander was in demand.

France’s Antoine Dupont left fans in stat of a disbelief with some magical play at Civitas Metropolitano but the same could be said about the Black Ferns Sevens’ No. 11. Woodman-Wickliffe had fans literally waiting in line for a photo and/or autograph.

The generosity to meet and greet supporters, before later having a seemingly endless amount of time for reporters after New Zealand’s final match on the Series, speaks volumes about the character of the Kiwi legend and the team as a collective.

“She’s literally the nicest person you’ll ever meet. She is just a genuine person,” Hirini added.

“She doesn’t care where you come from, what you do. If you’re willing to sit down and yarn to her then she’ll spend as long as she’s got to make sure that you’re feeling really welcome with us.

“I think it’s very fitting in our team, she’s one of our cultural leaders. Obviously, a very staunch Ng?puhi girl and that’s who she is with us – she’s that person first and foremost and then she’s a rugby player second.

“It’s probably something I’ve admired from her, she puts her wife and her daughter and her whanau above everything else.

“She’s definitely been a massive asset to have in our team and I’m pretty fortunate to call her one of my good mates now.”

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2 Comments
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Brian 18 days ago

Just about sums Woodman up. A big player in 7s when her dominant team just gave her the ball and she did what any other international class winger would do. In 15s, real rugby, she was not stand out and shown up/skinned on a number of occasions by England wingers, again fortunate to play in a top 2 team. Has seen the writing on the wall and realises that the Black Ferns are no longer dominant and unlikely to shine on the global scene over the next few years and does not want to jeopardise her “reputation”.

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