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Photo: Supplied / Design: Archi Banal
Photo: Supplied / Design: Archi Banal

SportsOctober 8, 2022

A letter to my mother, Black Fern #14

Photo: Supplied / Design: Archi Banal
Photo: Supplied / Design: Archi Banal

As the Black Ferns prepare to open their first Rugby World Cup on home soil, Isaac Ross (All Black #1088) pays tribute to his mum Christine, a pioneering member of the first New Zealand women’s rugby team. 

This story first appeared on The Bounce, a Substack newsletter by Dylan Cleaver.

Dear Mum,

Thank you for your courage. Even though you were scoffed at for thinking you could dare play a “hard man’s game”, you went out there and you found a way to play.

Thank you for your strength. Even though deep down you wanted to punch them between the eyes, you chose to ignore those men who told you “Girls don’t play rugby”.

Thank you for your perseverance. Even though it wasn’t considered the “done thing” for a farming mother to do, you still drove those three-hour round trips from Ashburton to Christchurch, twice a week, for a decade, just to train and to play the game you loved.

Thank you for your inclusion. Even though this was not what others thought mothers were supposed to do, you knew most of the other women in the team had kids, too. You allowed us to grow up with a team of mums, and a whole bunch of brothers and sisters come Sunday!

Thank you for your desire. Even though there was no sponsorship or playing money, you stopped at nothing to fundraise, to apply for grants, to sell tickets for raffles and to simply scrap and scrounge for donations. It was the only way to get on that plane to tour, and you were never going to miss that plane.

Thank you for your bravery. Even though so many critics thought you would not be capable, you were one of the first women to referee a men’s game in Europe.

Thank you for your fearlessness. Even though the team included formidable greats like the peerless Buck Shelford, you still led the haka for Dad’s Classic All Blacks in Bermuda.

Thank you for your humility. Even though so few remembered (even you had forgotten until Kendra Cocksedge kicked 13 conversions against Hong Kong in 2017),  you held the record for most conversions in a test for more than 20 years. You kicked 12 of them, against France, in 1996.

Thank you for your gifts. Even though we were supposed to be doing our homework, you would instead teach us how to run and pass and kick well after night had fallen.

Thank you for your patience. Even though you wanted me to play rugby, you knew the expectations that would be placed upon your boys as the sons of a Black Fern and an All Black. You started us in soccer. You gave us the space to develop our own passion for sport.

Thank you for your encouragement. Even though I had never played before and thought I might get hurt, you knew I would be OK. When my older cousin’s team fell short of numbers and needed me to play but I locked myself in the car, you didn’t make me get out. Instead you promised me you would be the coach next year. And you kept that promise. I never locked myself in the car again.

Thank you for your understanding. Even though the only reason I started playing rugby was because you were the coach, and you let me play first-five – and kick the goals!

Thank you for your inspiration. Even though Dad’s black-and-white All Black team photo was hung a little higher, it was your Black Ferns photo I stared at the most. I stared at it because I knew those women. I saw them on the field every Sunday. I was a tall kid, but they were the true giants!

Thank you for your dedication to dreaming big. Even though the All Blacks was considered the pinnacle of rugby in New Zealand, it was your Black Ferns jersey with the number 15 on the back that I had on, running around the lawn practicing those gifts you had given me; imagining myself, as kids do, scoring the winning try or kicking the winning goal.

Thank you for your unwavering support. Even when I towered above other kids and their parents would frown at me because what was a two-metre tall Mid Canterbury lock doing, thinking he could run it around and kick goals and play like he was a back? I didn’t care, because you said it was OK.

Thank you for originality. Even though it had not been done before and even though the games and tournaments weren’t officially sanctioned by the governing bodies, you were a part of a group of pioneering women who influenced the decision-makers and paved the way for the next generation of wahine – around the world and here at home – to take their place on the field.

Mum, it’s pretty special to have been a witness to all the Black Ferns’ success over the years. Now, 31 years after that first-ever Rugby World Cup, we get to see this team you helped create take the field for the first time in a home tournament. They take the field as defending champions, as the most successful rugby world cup in history. They will be looking to add to that and to build on the legacy that you and so many others laid down before them. That is something to look upon with immense pride. I know I do.

Thank you Mum. Black Fern #14.

Thank you for being you.


Keep going!