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The 18-year-old national dance champion adding new spark to Black Ferns Sevens

By Adam Julian
Jorja Miller of New Zealand makes a break during the 2023 Sydney Sevens match between France and New Zealand at Allianz Stadium on January 29, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Behind the natural charm of Jorja Miller, there’s a resilience, drive, and maturity which suggests she’ll be a permanent fixture on the New Zealand rugby scene for some time.


The 18-year-old from Canterbury was player of the match in the Black Ferns Sevens 35-0 thumping of France in the Sydney Sevens final last week.

She created the first try of the match with an exquisite pass to Tenika Willison and thrived all-round as the Black Ferns won their 30th tournament in the World Sevens Series.

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Earlier Miller scored tries in wins against Papua New Guinea (48-0) and France (29-14) to help New Zealand make the decider.

“I’ll play anywhere,” Miller enthusiastically announced to RugbyPass when asked what her best position is.

“I’m a working prop now which I’ve really enjoyed. In fifteens, I’m an openside flanker so I really like the physical stuff, making tackles, getting to the breakdown first, and challenging for the ball.

“It was a surprise we beat France by such a big score, but they did really well to make the final and we were on our game because of the threat they present. They’re physical, unpredictable, and fast.


“We actually played them in Mount Maunganui before Hamilton. That was really cool for both teams as we tried different combinations and learned more about our strengths and weakness.”

In 2022 handling Australia was a weakness for the Black Ferns. The Aussies won 51 of 56 matches including the World Series, Commonwealth Games gold medal, and World Cup titles.

In December the Black Ferns were again beaten by Australia in the final of the Dubai Sevens, the first event of the 2022-23 World Series. Without veterans Sarah Hirini, Stacey Fluhler, Theresa Fitzpatrick, and Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, Cape Town the following week appeared an insurmountable challenge.

However, New Zealand thrashed Australia 31-14 in the final and has since embarked on an 18-match win streak which includes home success in Hamilton.


“We had a bit of reflection with management after Dubai and changed some things. Mostly subtle stuff like a better connection on defence and mindset. As a younger player in the team, I needed to be more decisive,” Miller said.

Miller has appeared in all 24 matches for New Zealand in the World Series this season and scored 10 tries. Her professionalism is a far cry from most teenagers. Does she miss parties, study, and typical youth?

“They’re choices I’ve made. I want to be a serious rugby player, so I must make sacrifices. I still see my friends a lot and have a good time. I think balance is key.”

Miller was born and raised in Timaru. With two older brothers, she never shirked the physical challenge, but Highland Dancing was her first sporting love.

“My great grandma first saw it at an ANP show and fell in love so taught my nanna who taught my Mum which meant I had to do it.

“It’s been massive for my rugby. It’s taught me agility, lateral movement, and being responsive to changing direction with my feet.

“It’s a competitive thing. I have won National titles in my favourite dance, Sailor’s Hornpipe, which is something Navy Seals do.”


Christchurch Girls’ High School was massive for Miller. In pursuit of harder rugby, she headed to boarding school. In 2019, while only in Year 11, she helped Christchurch win the National Condor Sevens title.

In the final against Howick College, Auckland she scored four tries in a 29-14 triumph. It was in the semi-final against reigning championships Hamilton Girls’ High School though where she made the biggest impression.

“It was 17-all and went to extra time. The game had been going for more than 20 minutes when we were lucky to get a scrum and I just got through.”

Miller sprinted 80 meters for the winning try having earlier been sin-binned and dropping the ball at a key moment.

Inevitably her performances sparked the interest of Canterbury selectors. In 2021 she played five matches and scored three tries in the Farah Palmer Cup. In the final, she topped the tackle count, but it wasn’t enough to deny Waikato their first title.

A year later she was awarded a Black Ferns Sevens contract. Covid halted the Black Ferns competition schedule for much of 2022 which was actually timely for Miller.

“In the FPC semi, I injured my knee. A chuck of cartilage fell off and was basically floating behind my patella. I played the final on anti-inflammatories. The break was hard for some of the girls, but it gave me the chance to rehab.”

Miller built a good relationship with Sarah Hirini whose captained New Zealand in 43 of the 54 tournaments she’s played.

“I started playing hooker and then when Sarah wasn’t available, I was playing in her position. It was like wow; I’ve been watching her since I was 12. She’s really welcoming except for when she tells me off for following her around all the time.”


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