8 Dec 2022

How did one school produce 5 White Ferns in one match?

9:05 pm on 8 December 2022

When Jess Kerr presented Rebecca Burns with her White Ferns' debut cap four days ago she was quick to point out a fact that was nothing short of remarkable.

With Burns' call up to the side before the second T20 against Bangladesh, she became the fifth player on the team-sheet to come out of Tawa College.

Sports reporter and former Tawa College student Bridget Tunnicliffe explores what common denominators, if any, led to this mind-blowing achievement.

The five Tawa College alumni after the Welllington Blaze won the domestic T20 final in February 2022, making the 'T' for Tawa hand signal. Melie (left) and Jess Kerr (back row). From left to right (front row) Georgia Plimmer, Rebecca Burns and Sophie Devine.

The five Tawa College alumni after the Welllington Blaze won the domestic T20 final in February 2022, making the 'T' for Tawa hand signal. Melie (left) and Jess Kerr (back row). From left to right (front row) Georgia Plimmer, Rebecca Burns and Sophie Devine. Photo: Supplied

Yesterday's batting line up for the third T20, in which the White Ferns completed a 3-nil series sweep, resembled a Tawa College roll call.

Captain Sophie Devine opened the batting, Burns came in at three, Amelia Kerr at five. Georgia Plimmer seven, and Jess Kerr was the number nine batter.

Plimmer, 18, is the youngest of the crop.

"When we got told that Becs [Burns] would be coming in the first thing I thought was 'another Tawa girl!'. We already have everyone giving us a bit of slack in the Wellington Blaze about how many Tawa girls there are but now we're all in the White Ferns for this tour as well which is pretty cool," Plimmer said.

Before Plimmer went to Tawa College she was actually a softballer.

"But I was actually good mates with some of the Kerr family and they kind of introduced me to cricket and then I started playing in year nine at college and it just took off from there."

Amelia, 22, and Jess Kerr, 24, have got cricket in the blood.

Amelia and Jess Kerr celebrate a wicket for the White Ferns.

Sisters Amelia (left) and Jess Kerr playing for NZ. Photo: © Copyright Andrew Cornaga 2021 / www.photosport.nz / Photosport Ltd

Both dad, Robbie Kerr, and mum, Jo Murray, played for Wellington, and granddad Bruce Murray opened for New Zealand in 13 tests.

Robbie Kerr was the coach of the first eleven when Plimmer arrived in year nine.

"Melie [Amelia] was year 12 at that point. I came in for a few games for the first eleven and then Robbie wanted me to keep playing and so I just kept going."

A prodigious talent, Amelia Kerr by that stage was playing for the White Ferns.

"She was pretty much not at school at that point, I'd only see her around school a few times. But when we would go to the national championships for Tawa College, she would play for us and captain and score the majority of our runs," Plimmer laughs.

Devine, 33, is the senior member of the quintet and said for a suburb with a population nearing just 10,000, it was quite extraordinary.

"In all my cricket and where I've played around the world I don't think I've ever heard of one little suburb being so well represented particularly in an international team," Devine said.

The trailblazer

Devine wanted to continue playing in boys' teams when she went to high school but there was some opposition.

The school had to do a bit of lobbying on her behalf.

"There was a little bit of uproar about me being allowed to play with the boys' team, which for me was bizarre because I'd only ever played boys' cricket and I couldn't really see what all the fuss was about.

"I was pretty oblivious to it all, it was probably only later on in life that Mum and Dad sort of explained a bit further around the effort that a lot of people went through to be able to get me to play in the boys' team.

"But certainly the principal at the time Murray Lucas was a massive advocate for me and very thankful to him and other supporters."

Sophie Devine of New Zealand appeals

White Ferns captain Sophie Devine. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Rebecca Burns, 28, started at Tawa College just after Devine left but said stories filtered down.

"There was lots of talk about her not wearing the Tawa College skirt too and having the shorts for her uniform instead. I remember she was the first girl to wear shorts so everyone knew about it.

"And her just being a super star at sport and playing boys' cricket at high school. She was a well known Tawa girl, I grew up looking up to her and it's pretty cool to be playing with her," Burns said.

Plimmer remembers seeing photos of Devine, who also played hockey for New Zealand, in the college reception area.

"And when you come into the office there's one of Melie's playing shirts for New Zealand and then on the international honours wall in the PE. department you've got Sophie and the Kerr's there as well," Plimmer said.

There was no shortage of seeing success before them, and believing they too could follow that path.

Plimmer remembers when she first started playing in Year 9, Amelia Kerr told her she could play for the Wellington Blaze one day.

"I actually didn't believe it because I thought 'there's no way these girls are so good' but then once I was in the environment and getting all that training I was like 'oh actually there is quite a good pathway to get into domestic cricket'."

One person can make a difference

Tawa College

Tawa College Photo: Google Street View

The more you talk to them the more you discover the serendipitous connections between the five women go deep.

Robbie Kerr coached Sophie in the Blaze many years ago and Jess Kerr has early memories of Devine.

"She baby-sat me and Melie when we very young. Her name is all around the sports centre at Tawa College so I definitely knew who she was," said Jess Kerr.

Devine said Robbie Kerr was a common thread.

"Certainly those years too when Amelia, Jess and Rebecca were playing at school, Robbie had a really heavy influence on girls cricket, first at Tawa Intermediate and then obviously that flowed through to Tawa College," Devine said.

"I think that's probably what it's like around the country when you have a really dedicated passionate person who drives a lot of that.

"I know down at St Hilda's Collegiate in Dunedin, they've got a lot of players who have come through pretty much on the basis of one really passionate person, which just goes to show how important those sort of people are to the grass roots and to growing the game."

No surprises that Burns says Robbie Kerr had a big part to play in her cricketing career, as does Plimmer.

"His knowledge around the game and in indoor cricket as well, he'd always be around and spotting potential and encouraging as many girls to get involved as possible," Plimmer said.

"He saw a bit of hand eye co-ordination in me and was like 'you can go a long way if you keep going' so I think having his belief and that sort of stuff really helped me keep going and think there was a pathway."

Cul-de-sac cricket

Another common theme here seems to be the humble cul-de-sac.

The northernmost suburb within the Wellington city boundary has tonnes of them, providing safe havens from speeding cars and encouragement for neighbourly interaction.

Plimmer grew up on one of the many cul-de-sacs in Tawa so would play a bit of bat down with the other kids on the street.

White Fern Georgia Plimmer. Copyright photo: John Davidson / www.photosport.nz

White Fern Georgia Plimmer. Copyright photo: John Davidson / www.photosport.nz Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2022 www.photosport.nz

The Kerr sisters grew up on a cul-de-sac; it was where Amelia learnt how to do her leg spinner.

Devine grew up on 77 Woodman Drive, just on the corner of a cul-de-sac offshoot; her front yard was her main battle ground.

"The epic battles I used to have mostly with my brother and friends on the front yard and the hours that we spent out there was just ridiculous. I'm glad there wasn't so much internet and social media as there is these days because I was outside pretty much from sun up to sun down," Devine said.

Those beginnings mean a lot to Devine, she wears number 77 on her playing top.

Devine is back living in Tawa when she's in New Zealand and said it was nice be able to drive past her old house and go back down memory lane.

"And what's even more bizarre is that the Kerr's have now moved to Woodman Drive and Georgia's family home is just off Woodman Drive. If you're narrowing it down even further to have four of us live around that one street, again it's pretty mind-blowing."

All five lived on the east of the railway track that runs through the town.

Burns still lives in the family home and is about a two minute drive from Woodman Drive.

Growing up Burns would jump on her bike and ride to the nearest cul-de-sacs off her street and play cricket with all the neighbours.

Burns also frequented Linden Park.

"I think all us girls actually used Linden Park as our training base, I used to go down there with my Dad and hit the nets and have some throw downs," Burns said.


This is probably a story as much about community as it is a school. Most small towns around New Zealand will be able to identify.

Once you hit suburban New Zealand there aren't too many degrees of separation.

Fun fact, Tawa is also known for its large number of churches, dotted along the main road.

"Everyone knows everyone in Tawa, and especially if you're into cricket you know of the Kerr's and the Murray's," Plimmer said.

Rebecca Burns during her debut presentation. New Zealand White Ferns v Bangaldesh.
Copyright photo: Blake Armstrong / www.photosport.nz

Rebecca Burns during her debut presentation. New Zealand White Ferns v Bangaldesh. Copyright photo: Blake Armstrong / www.photosport.nz Photo: BLAKE ARMSTRONG

Bruce Murray is also a former principal of Tawa College.

"We're family friends with their family so I know Melie's grandparents, and I knew Bruce used to be a Test opener and then their whole family pretty much plays cricket. I've played with a few of Melie's younger cousins too."

Burns said it was special receiving her debut cap from Jess.

"It was super cool, I've know her for a few years' now, we grew up playing cricket together so it's pretty cool to get the cap from a fellow Tawa girl.

"Melie and Jess's aunty and grandma worked at Tawa College as well. Her aunty taught me Japanese and music," Burns said.

Devine was thrilled that Burns at the age of 28 got her White Ferns' opportunity.

"For her to be able to keep going at it and having played for the Wellington Blaze for so long now, hopefully it gives a bit of motivation to other players as well who might think that their times gone that certainly nothing's ever done," Devine said.

When asked if she could explain how five out of 11 White Ferns on the team-sheet could come from one town Burns laughs "it must be something in the water ...it's kind of crazy."

Devine said it filled them with a lot of pride.

"Obviously we try and make mention of it as much as possible much to the annoyance of everyone else in the team but it's pretty incredible when you really think about it."