12 Sep 2020

Rugby Sevens: Star power a boost to Farah Palmer Cup

5:53 am on 12 September 2020

A sprinkling of added star power has boosted this year's Farah Cup, which kicked off with a trio of matches last weekend.

With Covid-19 forcing the cancellation of the later part of the World Sevens Series, this year's national women's provincial competition included some of the world's best in the seven-a-side game.

The country's newest provincial team, who were preparing to host Auckland in Whangarei on Sunday, one of the biggest beneficiaries.

And although it wasn't Paris, Los Angeles or London - for Portia Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong - the Kerikeri Rugby Club wasn't a bad spot, either.

"We're used to travelling around the world to all these different exotic places and all these different cultures.

"But, for me, there's no place like home. Just being able to spend this quality time in New Zealand is something that we probably would never have had the opportunity to do."

World Cups, World Series titles and Commonwealth Games gold, the Black Ferns Sevens pair are two of women's rugby's biggest stars.

They were getting just as much, though, from being part of a Northland outfit in just their second season in the national competition.

Woodman said it had been a grounding experience getting to know her new Kauri team-mates.

"They're mums, they're teachers, they're students. They're girls that have got their lives and they fit in their passion [around that].

"To kind of vibe off them and to know that they are doing this for the pure and absolute love of this game makes me realise how lucky we (professional players) are in the lifestyle that we have."

In total, 15 from the Black Ferns Sevens squad were taking part in this year's Farah Palmer Cup.

The Black Ferns Sevens celebrate their 2018 World Cup triumph.

The Black Ferns Sevens celebrate their 2018 World Cup triumph. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

And Kauri coach Cheryl Smith was pretty happy with the two she got.

"It's just amazing for our young Northland girls to actually to see superstars on TV and now to be actually running beside them every Saturday.

"It just lifts them and you can see them buzzing."

That much was definitely true for Louisa Tubailagi.

The 18-year-old dreamed of joining her new team-mates in the Black Ferns sevens, and becoming the team's first Fijian-born player.

"I remember them coming to speak to us for the Northland under-18s last year.

"I didn't expect to play alongside them this year and yeah, I'm still star-struck."

Commitment has been crucial to Woodman and Nathan-Wong's success.

It was a quality the rest of the Northland squad also knew all about, travelling twice a week from all over the Far North region to train in Kerikeri.

A return journey of up to five hours for some, including another young player, Georgia Brierly, who had a day job on a beef farm near Wellsford.

"I'll leave work at 3.30, drive up to Whangarei, catch the van from there and get here at 6.30. We'll do our training, have a feed after training and then drive back home.

"I usually get home at around 11.30, midnight and then wake up early the next morning.

"It's a long day but hopefully it will be worth it in the end."

Tyla Nathan-Wong of Black Ferns Sevens.


At just over an hour, Nathan-Wong's trek to training was comparatively more manageable.

The Auckland-born and bred star, who had Northland roots on her father's side, was currently based in the small North Hokianga settlement of Broadwood, where here partner hailed from.

There was no doubt, she said, it was a change of pace she was relishing.

"I absolutely love it.

"Where I stay it's just surrounded by nature, there's a river just down from the house and there's a tiny little community gym. Only pretty much myself, my partner and maybe some of the school kids really go to it, and there's a shop. That's pretty much most of Broadwood there.

"Compared to say where we're based down in the Mount (Maunganui) with our high performance programme, with all the latest equipment and stuff like that.

"But, at the end, if you want to get something done, you don't need all the fancy equipment. If there's a will there's a way."

For Woodman, the Northland connection runs deep.

The 29-year-old spent the first six years of her life in Kaikohe and was living there with her Aunty during her time back in the region.

Portia Woodman scoring a try for the Black Ferns in the Woman's Rugby World Cup 2017

Portia Woodman scoring a try for the Black Ferns in the Woman's Rugby World Cup 2017 Photo: Photosport

Before the Farah Palmer Cup started Woodman also played for the Kaikohe club, the team edged out in last month's Northland final by a Te Rarawa side which included Nathan-Wong.

Kaikohe was also home for Kauri coach Cheryl Smith, who said having Woodman around had been great for the town.

"It's just brought a real buzz to the community.

"For Portia, as well, it's been grounding for her. It was something she always wanted to do and it's just been nice to have her come home and enjoy it."

And she wasn't the only one doing just that.

Woodman said her return had also meant a huge amount to her extended whānau.

"It's wicked. Mum and dad have already planned out every weekend where we're travelling to. And even though there's Covid, they're still going to travel wherever we go.

"I know mum and dad are crazy proud of me but that extends out to the whānau whānui. Mum's cousins, dad's cousins, aunties, uncles, everyone else.

"They're all super proud of me, and for them it's just seeing their girl back home."

Two stars of the game, embracing an unexpected chance to reconnect with their roots.