When Tyla Nathan-Wong popped over the conversion in what was the final act of the Rio Olympic gold medal match, her distraught face said it all.
It was a look that was mirrored across the faces of the entire New Zealand team, slumped around the ground at the Deodoro Stadium as Australia celebrated their history making Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Games.
It’s all well and good to have the best athletes, but if there was one thing everyone involved in the Black Ferns Rio Olympic campaign had learned it’s that what happens off the field can make or break what happens on it.
A reset was needed and “people first” would be at the heart of that change. Led by new coach Allan Bunting and a large, diverse leadership group, the Black Ferns Sevens set course on what would turn out to be a five-year path to not only win gold at the Tokyo Olympics and be world dominant but to enhance the mana of the jersey and inspire people.
At times during that five-year period, they were an unstoppable force but it didn’t always come so easily.
Serious injury left the global face of women’s rugby questioning her future in the game, their coach and captain endured personal turmoil and needed to step away, their methods were often questioned by the rugby hierarchy, and just when the biggest goal was on the horizon, covid stopped them in their tracks.
However, as they faced curveball after curveball, the Black Ferns Sevens had one simple premise to keep coming back to — are you on the waka and will you leave mana in your wake?