What the first year inside the Black Ferns is like
Being called up to represent your country for the first time is a highlight in any international rugby player’s career.
But, for Black Ferns utility back Ruahei Demant, her experience of being called up to play for New Zealand in 2018 is more unique than others.
“I was actually on the toilet, so I answered the call and he [Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore] broke the good news,” Demant said with a chuckle while speaking with Healthspan Elite.
Adding to Demant’s euphoria of a maiden Black Ferns call-up was the fact that she shared the news with her sister and fellow Black Ferns utility back Kiritapu.
“After he [Moore] called me, he called Kiri, who was outside the bathroom, and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh, your first call that you’ve ever made the team, you were on the toilet’, and I was like, ‘Yeah’.
“I’ll never forget it because of that.”
While Demant’s first-ever selection in the Black Ferns has a humorous feeling to it, it’s common for others to have a sense of disbelief when they receive their respective phone calls.
“I remember hanging out in my room and I got this phone call to say I’ve been invited to a camp and I’d been selected in the team and I actually didn’t believe it when I first got the phone call,” veteran Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge said.
Even more common is an overwhelming feeling of nervousness upon their induction into the Black Ferns camp.
Demant, Cocksedge and Black Ferns lock Eloise Blackwell all shared similar recounts of how anxious they were when they first entered the national squad.
“Going in, 19-years-old, I’d just come out of university, hadn’t really been in the environment before. For me, it was like walking on eggshells almost. You didn’t want to put a foot wrong,” Cocksedge said.
“I’m a halfback and I talk lots now, but you wouldn’t believe it the first three years in the team, I didn’t say boo, so it was kind of a nerve-racking time.
“At the same time, the respect that you have for those players, you sat still and you learned.
“My debut was in Whanganui and my first roomie was Anna Richards. She actually thought I had something wrong with me because I’d go to bed at 8 o’clock and she goes to bed at like 1:30am.
“It was pretty special, but just that feeling of walking in and, oh my gosh, it stays with you and you remember it forever.”
Likewise for Blackwell, the aura of being around players she admired prior to her first Black Ferns call-up added to the respect she had for her new teammates.
“I did keep to myself in terms of how much I spoke within the team for a long time because I was just in awe of all these people around me, the mana that they held, not just in terms of the Black Ferns environment, but in their provincial environments.”
Demant said her first time in the Black Ferns was made somewhat easier thanks to the presence of her sister and the warm culture within the squad.
“It was really nerve-racking, but everyone was so welcoming. What made it even more special is having Kiri there. We were there together experiencing that as sisters,” she said.
Perhaps even more memorable than receiving the news of being selected in the Black Ferns for the first time is making your Test debut for your country.
Cocksedge, who made her international debut as a teenager in 2007, said she struggled to keep a lid on her emotions during the pre-match national anthem and haka.
“I couldn’t control my emotions during the national anthem. I was just balling my eyes out,” the 2018 Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year award-winner said.
“You’re going into the haka and you’re on debut and you actually forget about the game. You just want to get your actions right and the words right, so that’s your first test, really, to make sure you get that right.”
Cocksedge added that her experience as an impact player in her early days as a Black Fern has helped her develop into one of New Zealand’s greatest-ever female players.
“I probably had one or two minutes for about nine years each game. I sat behind Emma Jenson for about nine years and I was comfortable to sit there.
“I learned so much off her and also off the older girls. I’m so grateful that it’s probably helped mould me into the player I am today. That’s what I feel my role is now in the side, is to give that back.”
Blackwell revealed she had a similarly emotional experience during the national anthem ahead of her Black Ferns debut against England in 2011.
“I debuted in England. Twickenham was packed. It was a packed house,” she said.
“I can just remember looking into the crowd and just seeing a Kiwi flag being flown and I think being so far from home, it was just a cool moment seeing that.”
Demant, meanwhile, said her exposure in the Black Ferns environment has driven her to become the best player she can possibly be.
“You’re not going to get better unless you play against the world’s best, and that’s the whole thing about being in the Black Ferns, is representing your wh?nau, your country, your club, your province, and playing against the best in the world.
“It drove me to want to be a part of this team. I want to put my best foot forward every time.”
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