At least one person will have a bob each way when the Black Ferns take on England in the final of the women’s World Cup on Sunday morning, writes Scotty Stevenson.
Rob Jones just can’t help it. He has women hanging off him wherever he goes. He’s surrounded by them. Hell, he lives with five of them for starters, though fortunately he’s betrothed to one and the other four call him dad. He’s at least got a boy dog, Kauri. Just for balance, he reckons. Apart from his canine friend, it’s women, women everywhere.
Rob and Rowena and their four girls and the black Labrador called Kauri live on a hillside in Feilding, where Rob is a teacher at the local high school. Friendly Feilding they call the place. Rob is a Welshman but he secretly wants to be a kiwi. He’s mad about rugby. His busy little house has framed jerseys hanging on walls, and gear bags stashed in corners, and rugby uniforms drying on racks by the heat pump. Rugby, rugby, all day, every day.
In 2006, Rob took over coaching the Feilding High School girl’s rugby programme. It was a middling programme, as so many girl’s programmes around the country were a decade ago. With his trademark gusto and enthusiasm and lilting welsh accent, Rob took that programme and transformed it into one of the most successful in the country. In 2012 his first XV went undefeated for an entire season. They had one draw: when they split into two teams for a sevens tournament and faced each other. It remains the most dominant season in schoolgirl rugby history.
He helped shape a generation of rugby players, many have gone on to represent their province, Manawatu, in sevens and fifteens. He supported them as they found their voice and their pride through the game. He also coached a couple of international superstars, and this weekend he will watch them playing in a rugby World Cup final. One will wear the famous number seven jersey for the Black Ferns, the other will start as hooker for England. In Feilding, they’ll be cheering for Sarah Goss and her New Zealand team mates, but Rob Jones has a bob each way, thanks to Amy Cokayne.
It is hard to overstate how excited Rob is about Sunday morning. Never in his wildest dreams did he think two of his players would have made it all the way to the Rugby World Cup final, but he has followed them every step of the way as they blazed their professional rugby trails, putting Feilding High School on the map at each and every turn. He may well be the proudest man in Feilding this weekend, and who could blame him? He has already seen Sarah Goss win a sevens World Cup, and Amy score tries for England. He watched them both in June when England defeated the Black Ferns in Rotorua. He didn’t want to miss it.
He rarely misses anything when it comes to the women in his life. He has stepped down now from coaching the girls at Feilding High School, but he has traded that job for coaching his eldest daughter’s team. She’s a try-scoring machine, by the way, but that’s not really important to Rob. He just loves watching her play, the same way he will love watching on Sunday.
It’s not just about Rob, of course. It is about Sarah and Amy and the power of a school and a community to create champions. The Goss family will be there in Belfast, as will Ian and Sharon Cokayne. Ian, known to all in the Airforce as ‘Junkie’, was always with Rob in Amy’s high school days. Sharon was the team manager. Ian and Sharon gave Amy her work ethic and nurtured her desire. Sarah inherited her mother Ronnie’s powerful presence, and her father Alan’s quiet humility. They both carry with them a deep affection for the people who helped them along the way. The school community believed in them; it believes in them still.
Rob Jones spent last week organising messages of support for Amy and Sarah from his platoon of former players. They all jumped at the chance, of course. No one wants to say no to the bloke they simply call Jonesy. He’ll sit there on Sunday morning and probably have a beer for breakfast and watch Sarah Goss and Amy Cokayne play a World Cup final.
He may even give himself a little bit of credit while he watches. Here’s hoping he does. Here’s hoping, too, that all those people in that little town of Feilding wake up on Sunday morning and flick on the game and enjoy watching Sarah and Amy face each other down in the final.
Sarah Goss and Amy Cokayne: two extraordinary women, and still two of Jonesy’s girls.
The World Cup final kicks off at 6:45am NZT on Sunday 27 August. Watch live on Sky Sport 2 or delayed on Prime from 8:05am.
This story originally ran on RugbyPass.com – the premier destination for rugby fans in Asia, streaming International Test Matches including The Rugby Championship, Super Rugby and more to your device wherever you are in Asia