New Zealand’s ‘biggest story of sport in 2022’

A small country at the bottom of the world watches rugby like an obsession, as opposed to a pastime.

Many who call New Zealand home follow the sport almost religiously, and live all the highs and lows along with their team.

Sport can unite a community and inspire a nation, and that’s one of the best things about the 15-player code known around the world as rugby.

Video Spacers
Video Spacers

And the little nation in the corner of the world, home to less than six million people, was able to experience the power of sport in spades this year.

While the All Blacks are placed on a pedestal in New Zealand – as players transcend the moniker of mere role models – it was the women’s team who brought a nation together in 2022.

The Black Ferns dared to dream of the seemingly unlikely when nobody gave them a chance; there was something special about this group of players.

New Zealand had lost four consecutive tests during their end-of-season tour the year before, two each against England and France, and were ranked outsiders to defend their World Cup crown.

But as the tournament progressed, as the Black Ferns showcased their superstar potential both on and off the field, Aotearoa rallied behind this team like never before.

The support was simply revolutionary for women’s rugby.

Sold out crowds packed the stands at New Zealand’s home of rugby Eden Park, and watched the Black Ferns avenge the losses from the year prior against France in the semi-final.

Then, one week one, another sold out crowd watched on as the Black Ferns beat World No. 1 England in the final – ending the Red Roses’ 30 test unbeaten streak in the decider.

Looking back at the year that was, sports journalist Tony Palmer described the Black Ferns’ inspiring World Cup triumph as “the biggest story of sport in 2022 in New Zealand.”

“To me, the biggest story of sport in 2022 in New Zealand is what various sports have achieved, but mostly in behind a team that has names that we know,” Palmer told Brendan Telfer Hon The Platform.

“Ruby Tui, Ruahei Demant, Teresa Fitzpatrick, Stacey Fluhler, Portia Woodman, these have become almost household names.

“I know from the females in my family, they know and they love all these women. Part of what they love is that they look to be exuding joy at the game they play. There’s no stern, hard-a**** looks.

“They just look like they love what they’re doing, and that is what makes them entertaining on television.

“The fact that they sold out Eden Park to a women’s game, the fact that people began to know their names, the fact that they rated more than a million television… back in the 70s when we started in this game, neither of us would ‘ve believed either of those attainable.

“Sport New Zealand deserves a pat on the back, and particularly those that promoted the Black Ferns in the World Cup.”

It was both refreshing and captivating to see the Black Ferns smile their way through the New Zealand national anthem, as they soaked up the extend of the occasion.

The squad of 33 became modern rock stars.

New Zealand were passionate and exciting on the field of play, and seemingly had all the time in the world for their supporters off it.

Even in the final, with the test in the balance, star center Stacey Fluhler limped off the field with a smile on her face with about 10 minutes to play, before waving to the crowd.

“In the case of the Black Ferns there are two elements here. One is pure luck in that they were able to get to the final, they were extremely lucky to beat France,” he added.

“I felt throughout that they were always going to beat England, simply because of the way they play the game.

“You end up with a team that plays the most attractive footy winning. I think that was hugely important.

“The women and the way they behave is also a very important factor. I covered rugby league for years… every single year when the final was played and there was mad Monday, there would be accusations of blokes from various clubs (behaving badly).

“In women’s sport as long as I can remember, they don’t, they don’t get in trouble, they don’t embarrass the sport, they become charming ambassadors.

“If you look at some of the names here, they’re now being invited on all sorts of television shows, three of four nights a week you’ll see a member of that Black Fern team.”

But while the success of this history-making team can rightly be credited to all of the players who donned the coveted black jersey, there’s one man in particular who is equally as deserving of praise.

Super coach Wayne Smith changed the way the Black Ferns both played and approached the game.

Rugby has become a sport dominated by defensive structures. It’s widely understood that teams are better off playing without the ball than with it – but not the Black Ferns, not Wayne Smith.

“The other person that I think was a substantial factor in this was Wayne Smith.

“Everybody who follows rugby, male or female, knows that Wayne Smith is respected around the world as a very good brain of tactics and how you play the sport.”

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