By ROBYN BRISTOW                                                    PHOTO: TONY BRUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Grace Brooker can’t wait to get on to the rugby field as a Black Fern.

“It has always been my dream to play for the Black Ferns,” says the 18-year-old who first laced up her boots at the age of 4, for Oxford.

She heads to Auckland for a Black Ferns camp this weekend with hopes of securing a spot for matches during the Bledisloe Cup series both here and in Australia before heading to Chicago – a first for a women’s XV in the United States.

There is also an end-of-year tour to target.

“It is unfathomable,” says Grace, an outside back, who is the second youngest to have been selected for a Black Fern’s squad.

Grace trains “pretty much every day” with Black Fern squad members in the Canterbury region, prior to weekend camps, and her Christchurch Old Boys side.

She still finds time to study sports coaching and management at Canterbury University, coach an under-16 North Canterbury girls team at Southbrook on Tuesday evenings, and an under-11 University side at Belfast.

She continued her growth in rugby in Hawarden when her family moved north, after her stint as a nipper in Oxford.

She played alongside the boys for the Hurunui club, ending her association with Hurunui in the under 14.5 division.

During this time, her family were never far from her side, with her teams coached by her uncle, mother, father and others when needed.

In Year 8, in 2012, Grace travelled to Christchurch on Friday afternoons for a Sevens competition, not realising it was for secondary school-aged children.

However, the organisers quickly realised her potential, noting she was far from out of her depth, and asked her to join the tournament every week for the fourth term.

Grace went straight into the 1st XV when she started at Christchurch Girls’ High School in 2013, combining rugby with several other sports at the school.

Even today, she still finds time for surfing and golf.

“I am a great fan of golf,” she says.

In 2014, Grace moved to playing club rugby for Christchurch Old Boys and is excited that this season her team has made it into the top five, hopefully setting a path to the semifinals and final.

While her grounding has been in good basic club rugby, it was her debut in the Canterbury side last year which caught the eye of national selectors.

In her first match for her province, she scored two tries in beating Manawatu 42-10, and was in the points again in the semifinal against Waikato, scoring a further two tries.

She also contributed well in the final against Counties Manukau, helping Canterbury to its first Farrah Palmer Cup victory, 13-7.

Grace says she doesn’t have a lot of time to spare these days because of her training, coaching and playing commitments, but is unfazed.

She just loves rugby.

North Canterbury girls interested in playing in an under-16 rugby side are being sought to bolster the ranks.
The team competes in the Canterbury Metro competition but has only about 10 girls turning out each game, forcing it to “borrow” players.
The team coach, newly selected Black Ferns squad member Grace Brooker, says the squad is “super enthused”. “Their progress is pretty crazy.”
They train every Tuesday at Southbrook between 4.30pm and 5.30pm. “We would love girls to just turn up,” she said, particularly those who showed initial interest earlier this year. Phone 027 850 4280.

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