Melissa Ruscoe: Relief and joy at WRWC glory

(IRB.COM) Saturday 1 January 2011
By Melissa Ruscoe
 Melissa Ruscoe: Relief and joy at WRWC glory
The Haka provided one of Melissa Ruscoe's abiding memories of the World Cup final - Photo: Martin Seras Lima

We look back over the hugely successful Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 with victorious captain Melissa Ruscoe, who spoke to days before the Black Ferns were named Team of the Year at the New Zealand Rugby Union awards night, beating off stiff competition from the All Blacks, the Sevens and Under 20 teams for the coveted accolade.

When I look back at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 it is just with a whole sense of achievement really, it was such a huge milestone to overcome and so there is a sense of achievement that everyone did their best.

I don’t think winning this one was any harder or easier than the others. It was a completely different team and different circumstances and if anything the whole thing of it being in England added that extra pressure on both teams.

England certainly wanted to win and we wanted to beat them at their home ground and after the Black Ferns lost to them in November we definitely had a point to prove. What made it possibly harder was the fact that we hadn’t had a lot of game time before the tournament, so we knew our experience would be invaluable.


I’m sure it was the final people expected or wanted to see, England versus New Zealand ... but I’m sure they’d have been happy if France had beaten us in the semi final as well! When you look back over the World Cup, probably for representation of the tournament, we were the two sides that played well and deserved to be in the final and it was a fierce game.

If anything it went really fast, although it seems a long time sitting on the sidelines for those 10 minutes [in the sin bin]! The first half I felt we dominated territory but didn’t quite turn that possession into as many points as we should have and it came out pretty close in the end.

The atmosphere at the Twickenham Stoop was just fantastic. The start of the game when we went to do our Haka and the crowd started to sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot. I think they were trying a bit of intimidation but it certainly gave us that little bit of fire in our bellies to throw our Haka out there and get straight into the game.

What stands out from the final? The start definitely with the crowd being so close, the noise. I think it was a fantastic venue, just brilliant, it was pretty much sold old and I just hope it proved to the English Rugby Union that crowds will come out and watch Women’s Rugby and hopefully they will get more crowds which will be brilliant.

The speed of the game. The physicality of the forwards, the moment when we thought Carla [Hohepa] was away and their lock mowed her down. They are two things I remember. Then having possession in the last couple of minutes and Emma [Jensen] kicking it out at the end.

It didn’t feel as though we were losing at any stage and the scoreline proves that. Although it was frustrating with players getting sent to the bin, the girls on the field just seemed to lift and to have that calmness, that edge and just to keep fighting and that gave us confidence to finish the game.

There were many factors to us coming out on top. When you get people with leadership ability that we had in that team, people like Emma at half back and Kelly [Brazier] kicking and keeping them down in their own half. Defence was always going to win it against England and from November we knew our defence had to improve and that was one of many thing we worked on.

VIDEO: Black Ferns claim another title

When Emma kicked that ball out the feeling was one of just relief that it was over. The excitement that we had many friends in the crowd and my parents were there to celebrate with. It was just that whole relief that the work we had put in had paid off.

It was a relief to be able to win it for those who had helped us in those four years. We had little kids sending us cards from their primary schools. We didn’t want to let them down even though we had never met them. We felt responsible to win that game for them and not for ourselves.

You don’t want to  be the team that loses a World Cup final and when you go and play a test match with the history of the Black Ferns you do not want to be in the team that loses, that is something that spurs you on to play and win.

We had a fantastic response when we returned home to New Zealand. There were media at the airport and a big crowd of family and friends all there. We weren’t expecting a huge attendance to be honest, we haven’t had a lot of coverage I suppose and in some ways we were a little overawed at all the media but a good thing for Women’s Rugby.

The public have definitely got behind us in winning a fourth title and also the circumstances of losing the NPC, the media have got in behind that and hopefully it will return. The NPC is vital for those girls getting into the game, they need something to strive for, and we have got our fingers crossed for it.

We will not be confident yet though. That is the first part of the growth in this country, Sevens needs to be a focus, that is going to come on in leaps and bounds and I feel this is one time for Women’s Rugby to step up. In this country to use the small resources we have a bit more efficiently and smartly so we can continue to be strong.

It’s about raising the bar and improving everything.

Special homecoming

For me personally, my return to school was massive and the kids were fantastic. When I got back because of the earthquake the school was closed for the whole week and I know in ‘06 they watched the final in the school hall because being in Canada the timing was better.

This time someone was recording it on the Monday morning our time so they could replay it in the hall, but because of the earthquake that never happened. The earthquake kind of overshadowed it, you quickly forget when you come back and check that everyone is ok after the earthquake.

The kids had organised a special assembly for me and they got TV3, one of the New Zealand TV channels, to come down so there was a bit on the news going back into school and speaking to them. It was very emotional, I didn’t cry winning the World Cup but I cried in the assembly! There wasn’t too much work going on that day, they were saying how proud they were that we’d won.

I’ve been asked what my future holds in rugby, to be honest not much. I will certainly not be there at the next World Cup [in 2014]. I have been playing football and now rugby at a high level for a long time, it’s high time my body has a bit of a rest ... but never say never!

Everyone has got heart and passion for wearing the silver fern and the black jersey and if you don’t take your opportunities ... it isn’t a given, it is something you earn and you work towards achieving and even when you get there you certainly do not underestimate the privilege.

Once you make it to the Black Ferns you have to stay there. The easy bit is getting there and staying is the hard part. Every game players want to take your position, that is what makes it so special to play for the Black Ferns. You have had something special in your life when you get into the team.

I think the future is bright for the Black Ferns. If you just look at that backline, if you take Anna [Richards] out, the others are all young girls who have only been playing for two or three seasons. I think we are fine and these are exciting times. If we can get structures right and programmes working through the next three or four years that development is still there and special.

New Zealand v Australia encounters are always intense affairs regardless of the sport

Going back to our World Cup journey itself, I was expecting more rain at that time of year in England to be honest, so we were pleasantly surprised by the weather conditions which possibly suited us as well, it could have been a whole different game if weather had been the other way round.

We knew where we were staying and some of the girls had seen in it the November so we knew what the environment was like and where it is going to be and the facilities were fantastic, we were quite jealous of the set up, the accommodation and the whole University set up was really good.

We were just focused though on getting to the tournament and winning. We were together only for a couple of days before we left New Zealand and we were just excited and wanted to get over there and start playing.

The first game against South Africa was definitely a nervous occasion. I would say apart from my debut that was one of the games I have been most nervous about, having not played South Africa before and them being really strong and saying that they were expecting a big game and willing to win it.

Even our coach admitted to being nervous, but nerves are all part of the game and if you are not slightly nervous then you are not ready for the game. We had the whole Tri Nations pool going on with South Africa and Australia in there. It was exciting and very nervous and to get those tries early on was great.

Then it was Australia and it is always a battle against the Aussies. They are very similar to us in style of game and it doesn’t matter what sport we play them in, the Trans Tasman battle is always going to be tough and closely fought and from past games we know we have got to get on top early on and not give them too many chances.

Australia have that competitive edge and that drive to win that we have. I think we always have fierce contests against them and you might not see much of sports like netball where Australia always get one up and over us and things like that. They have got that edge and slight arrogance, they talk themselves up and often come out and do what say they will do. They are a team you have got to shut them down early.

Raising the profile

Wales were our final pool opponent. You want to give everyone an opportunity during the pool games and against Wales the experience was still there, they hadn’t gone as they’d hoped but we still had to concentrate on what we were doing and get the four tries and get the bonus point and all that. Wales put up a fight and we struggling for the first 20 or 30 minutes so it was really testament to the girls to take the heat from Wales and finish off strongly.

This meant we were seeded second for the semi finals behind England, which honestly didn’t bother us at all. We had won three games and been scoring tries. We knew it would come down to point differential and with the massive scores that England had in their pool we knew they would have the biggest points difference.

I have to admit the four semi finalists were pretty much as I would have predicted before the tournament, although I think France would look back now and say they were lucky to get through some close games and possibly had got the experience over Canada.

Canada are definitely improving and improved again in the tournament. The top six were pretty similar I think to ‘06, Australia were the big movers from ‘06 to 2010. They will definitely be happy with that and will want to improve again next time.

With France, our semi final opponents, you don’t know what you will get from them, it’s almost wait and see what will happen. They showed again when they get down to our 22 area they can score points and are going to be hard to defend against.

I think if you can put pressure on teams early on and make them doubt themselves and mentally keep on top of them it is going to be hard for them and by half time it was a massive score in our favour. They came back in the second half so it could have been closer.

We watched some of the other semi final and we knew Australia would come out no holds barred against England. They wanted to get to the final and they did pretty well. They could possibly  have got more points but they put the pressure on England

There has been much talk about what this World Cup achieved for the Women's Game, for me I think it showcased a very high skill level, a game that is exciting to watch, the pace and physicality, a similar style to the men. The style we tried to play anyway was similar to the men’s game.

We are never going to be as physically fast and strong as that but we still emulate it with our skill level and I think all the games showed important knowledge and understanding, even with Sweden playing in their first World Cup [since 1998], I’m sure they will have been going home pretty happy with their efforts and they didn’t get demolished by any team.

I think it just lifted people and if all these teams can go back and work on bits to develop then Women’s Rugby will continue to grow. It is really important and hopefully the resources that Unions in each country have can support their women’s games from young little kids because it’s not just about the elite level, the top team, you need a structure to develop the game.