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Becoming a Black Fern: The First Year

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Joining the Black Ferns environment for the first time is a special feeling. Here Black Ferns Kendra Cocksedge, Eloise Blackwell and Ruahei Demant share their stories of their first year with the team.

Being called up to represent your country for the first time is a highlight in any international rugby player's career.

But, for Black Ferns utility back Ruahei Demant, her experience of being called up to play for New Zealand in 2018 was more unique than others.

"I was actually on the toilet, so I answered the call and he [Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore] broke the good news," Demant says with a chuckle.

Adding to Demant's euphoria of a maiden Black Ferns call-up was the fact that she shared the news with her sister and fellow Black Ferns utility back Kiritapu.

"After he [Moore] called me, he called Kiri, who was outside the bathroom, and she was like, 'Oh my gosh, your first call that you've ever made the team, you were on the toilet', and I was like, 'Yeah'.

"I'll never forget it because of that."

Although Demant's first-ever selection to the Black Ferns is a fun memory, it's common for others to have a sense of disbelief when they receive their respective phone calls.

"I remember hanging out in my room and I got this phone call to say I've been invited to a camp and I'd been selected in the team, and I actually didn't believe it when I first got the phone call," says veteran Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge.

"For me, it was like walking on eggshells almost. You didn't want to put a foot wrong."

Kendra Cocksedge, Black Ferns halfback

Even more common is an overwhelming feeling of nervousness upon their induction into the Black Ferns camp.

Demant, Cocksedge and Black Ferns lock Eloise Blackwell all share similar accounts of how anxious they were when they first entered the national squad.

"Going in, 19 years old, I'd just come out of university, hadn't really been in the environment before. For me, it was like walking on eggshells almost. You didn't want to put a foot wrong," Cocksedge says.

"I'm a halfback and I talk lots now, but you wouldn't believe it the first three years in the team, I didn't say boo, so it was kind of a nerve-racking time.

"At the same time, the respect that you have for those players, you sat still and you learned.

"My debut was in Whanganui and my first roomie was Anna Richards. She actually thought I had something wrong with me because I'd go to bed at 8 o'clock and she goes to bed at like 1:30am.

"It was pretty special, but just that feeling of walking in and, oh my gosh, it stays with you and you remember it forever."

Feelings of awe

Likewise for Blackwell, the aura of being around players she admired prior to her first Black Ferns call-up added to the respect she had for her new teammates.

"I did keep to myself in terms of how much I spoke within the team for a long time because I was just in awe of all these people around me, the mana that they held, not just in terms of the Black Ferns environment, but in their provincial environments."

Demant says her first time in the Black Ferns was made somewhat easier thanks to the presence of her sister and the warm culture within the squad.

"It was really nerve-racking, but everyone was so welcoming. What made it even more special is having Kiri there. We were there together experiencing that as sisters."

Black Ferns players running and jumping

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Perhaps even more memorable than receiving the news of being selected for the Black Ferns for the first time is making your Test debut for your country.

Emotional debut

Cocksedge, who made her international debut as a teenager in 2007, says she struggled to keep a lid on her emotions during the pre-match national anthem and haka.

"I couldn't control my emotions during the national anthem. I was just bawling my eyes out.

"You're going into the haka and you're on debut and you actually forget about the game. You just want to get your actions right and the words right, so that's your first test, really, to make sure you get that right."

Cocksedge adds that her experience as an impact player in her early days as a Black Fern has helped her develop into one of New Zealand's greatest-ever players.

"I probably had one or two minutes for about nine years each game. I sat behind Emma Jenson for about nine years and I was comfortable to sit there.

"I learned so much off her and also off the older girls. I'm so grateful that it's probably helped mould me into the player I am today. That's what I feel my role is now in the side, is to give that back."

"You're not going to get better unless you play against the best, and that's the whole thing about being in the Black Ferns... playing against the best in the world."

Ruahei Demant, Black Ferns utility back

Blackwell reveals that she had a similarly emotional experience during the national anthem ahead of her Black Ferns debut against England in 2011.

"I debuted in England. Twickenham was packed. It was a packed house," she says.

"I can just remember looking into the crowd and just seeing a Kiwi flag being flown and I think being so far from home, it was just a cool moment seeing that."

Demant, meanwhile, says her exposure to the Black Ferns environment has driven her to become the best player she can possibly be.

"You're not going to get better unless you play against the world's best, and that's the whole thing about being in the Black Ferns, is representing your whānau, your country, your club, your province, and playing against the best in the world.

"It drove me to want to be a part of this team. I want to put my best foot forward every time," says Demant.

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NZ and Australia women's rugby players running

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