A lot happened in New Zealand rugby this year, but a “game changing tournament” clearly stands out for how its significance transcended sport and inspired a nation.
Looking back at the year that was, the Black Ferns’ incredible World Cup triumph on home soil was a monumental occasion for both the women’s game and a rugby-mad nation.
If you’re reading this maybe you attended some of the Tests at Eden Park, or knew someone who did, or you might’ve just watched the games on TV – either way, the impact that the Black Ferns had on Aotearoa was felt by rugby fans around the world.
The Black Ferns were by no means the favourites to defend their World Cup crown following a disastrous end-of-season tour the year before, but they dared to dream along with their nation.
After overcoming a valiant Wallaroos at Eden Park in their tournament opener, the passionate support behind New Zealand’s team grew with every Test.
Fast forward a few weeks and the Black Ferns were playing against France at New Zealand’s home of rugby, in front of a sold-out crowd of rugby fans both young and old.
Then, just a week later, more than 42,000 supporters packed the stands at the famous venue for a historic final against World No. 1 England.
While the final wasn’t without controversy and went down to the wire, the Black Ferns recorded a stunning upset win – and the celebrations that followed just prove how important this team is to their country.
Speaking on Episode 16 of the All Blacks Podcast, broadcaster Kirstie Stanway reflected on the history-making tournament which was “bigger than sport.”
“I’m not really a negative person but I can honestly say a few weeks before the World Cup, no one knew whether New Zealand was going to get behind this tournament,” Stanway said.
“No one knew if we would fill out half of Eden Park, let alone fill Eden Park out three times across a six week period. No one knew that.
“As the tournament went on and the support (grew)… it felt more and more like 2011 when you would rive up and down the country and you’d see the hay bales that had All Blacks painted across them, but yet this was for the Black Ferns.
“It’s just totally changed sport. That final, I was down on the sideline and I struggled to watch the game because I was just looking up behind me in awe that there is 45,000 people that sold this out.
“It just makes me so proud to be a women, it makes me so proud to be Maori hearing Ruahei Demant and hearing Ruby Tui and seeing what they did for our country, our nation, our culture.
“I get emotional speaking about it but it’s a game changing tournament and it’s just bigger than sport. It’s bigger than rugby and it’s bigger than rugby what all 32 of those women managed to do.
“They’re incredible, they’re great ambassadors.”
The Black Ferns lost two Test matches against both England and France during their end-of-season tour the year before – and they were beaten badly too.
But under the tutelage of super coach Wayne Smith, New Zealand were able to revolutionise their game.
Smith, who won World Rugby’s Coach of the Year last month, will go down in history as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport.
“You have to give a massive shoutout to Wayne Smith because the style of rugby they played was so entertaining,” she added.
“Someone like my dad who wouldn’t normally watch women’s rugby, he gets bored watching Super Rugby sometimes, but that’s some of the best rugby he’s ever seen.
“Wayne Smith created that style because we have the best athletes in the world, so he allowed them to be themselves, to show what they’ve got, to express themselves.
“In turn, everyone fell in love with them. It was special, it was so, so special.”