I have never been involved in such a fit, strong, powerful, fast and effective team of female rugby players. Chosen by Darryl Suasua, the former Black Ferns coach, he tried to pick a team that would give the current World Champions a run for their money, players who he had seen performing well on a World stage over the past six years.
Training was intense from day one. No one complained of jet lag despite flights of over 26 hours for some. Everyone was professional, switched on and ready to prepare for the two tests ahead. We stayed in Auckland Grammar School for the first week, more like an army camp if you ask me! But it did the job; the food was good, and the training facilities excellent.
To my delight, I was named in the starting line up, at full back for the first test, despite the presence of French full back Estelle Sartini who was picked on the wing. Estelle was a player I was very much looking forward to playing alongside, due to her flair and pace, and her excellent performance for France against Wales in the Six Nations Championship last season.
The first test was played at Eden Park, Auckland in front of over five thousand spectators. But the World 15 went down 32-0, probably due to lack of preparation and jet lag! The coaches tried to put a game plan in place with only four full training days, which involved a 'pod' system similar to how Wales want to play. The Black Ferns were so quick to the breakdowns the World 15 players struggled to win ruck ball with only four players committing to the breakdown. The home side has too much pace and power, although it did take them over 25 minutes to score their first try. I didn't get much ball, but had plenty of tackling practice! After tackling those Polynesian girls, no one will frighten me on a rugby pitch again!
After the match it was a nice surprise to bump into former Wales coach Graham Henry who watched our match and was preparing his Auckland team to face Northland. Sunday morning following the first game, we made the trip north to Wangharei, our home for the second week. And no, Sunday wasn't a day off! Full contact training for two hours, but at least the temperature was a bit warmer than Auckland!
We trained twice a day for the week leading up to the second test with only Friday as a rest day. Frank Bouvert, our coach from France, decided to simplify the game plan, using the forwards to hit every ruck where possible, and keeping the backs play simple and effective, due mostly to difficulties in communication. The second test was a much closer encounter.
The World 15 led 14-12 at the interval, only the second team ever to lead against the Black Ferns at the half time stage. I got my hands on the ball on a number of occasions and managed to make a few clear breaks, one of which led to a try. But despite a close and exciting second half, the Female All Blacks eventually ran out winners 32-19. It was the trip of a lifetime, and something that will stay in my memory for a long time. Train hard and one day it may be you playing for the World 15 against the World Champions.