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'If I can get girls to live the dream that I'm living, then that's pretty cool'

New Zealand’s brilliant scrum-half is working to create solid pathways for girls to follow in her footsteps.

IT’S NEVER EASY being one of the best players in your sport. It’s just that the best make their game of choice appear easy.

Even on the biggest stage, when matches get unbearably tight and tense, they have that innate ability to alter a game with the deft touch of a boot or a flick of the wrist.

It’s hard to get to that top level, harder to stay there and extremely tough to achieve any of that as an amateur. That’s the balance New Zealand scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge has to strike. But then, there’s no end of value to found by placing the brilliant Kiwi playmaker at both ends of the development chain.

It’s late on a Wednesday night and the half-back is in her car in Canterbury on her way home following a bite to eat that book-ended a long day’s work as women’s rugby development co-coordinator for the Crusaders region. For those unfamiliar with the Super Rugby side’s catchment area, that’s about 60% of New Zealand’s sparsely populated south island.

“I cover from Tasman down to Timaru: six hours north and about two hours south. If I head over to the west coast it’s a good three hours as well,” Cocksedge tells The42.

As a development officer in rugby’s adopted home, there is a slightly different set of tasks and challenges. In Ireland, rugby is late-starting sport in the majority of areas outside of the major cities and so a period of learning and adaptation must be allowed .

In New Zealand, there is nowhere that the sport is not already embedded in the community fabric. It’s a common sight to see free-formed games of touch in full flow in public parks with two sexes and barely a piece of footwear involved. But New Zealand isn’t immune from the challenges facing women’s sport the world over. Namely the drop-out rates that decimate participation numbers as girls age and the sport becomes more akin to the top level version.

“Rugby is in our blood. We live and breath it. So for us growing the women’s game as a part of the union’s strategy is really important. My role is to create a pathway for young girls coming through.

Previously (girls) had to just play with the boys and they get to a certain age, generally when they need to tackle, and they drop off. Because they don’t want to play tackle against the boys.”

Fair enough. Nobody likes losing collisions and repeatedly running in to heavier opponents.

“The big part of my role in the last 18 months was to get the provincial unions like Canterbury and Tasman to employ resources (just) for the women’s game, a women’s rugby development officer looking after that area’s all-girls grades and all-girls teams so as those girls are able to stay in the game.

“Canterbury, south Canterbury and Tasman now all have resources solely looking after the women’s game and they’re finding it’s been really beneficial. There are more girls playing. It’s providing them with, not just (full-sided) rugby, there’s ‘quick rip’ now (much like tag) and a couple of other versions of the games coming out now as well and I think that’s really important.”

It all makes for long and taxing work day, but the exceptionally talented scrum-half would balk at the suggestion that she  swap her routine for a more tangible reward than bringing forth the next generation.

Kendra Cocksedge Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I absolutely love what I do with a passion.  If I can get girls to live the dream that I’m living by representing my country then… that’s my passion and it’s pretty cool to give these girls the opportunity.”

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On top of firming up that pathway, the Black Ferns can provide a quick interest and participation booster through their performance at this month’s World Cup. The four-time world champions touched down in Dublin this week and have been acclimatising from their pre-World Cup base in Booterstown before moving round the corner into their UCD digs.

It will be an invaluable week together for the Kiwi outfit who, like Ireland, train in their regional centres during a regular midweek and then cram as much as possible into weekend camps when everyone is under one roof.

“We train together and Auckland train together week to week. We’ve had a few weekend camps when we fly to Auckland, spend a few days up there and then we had the June series which is probably the most beneficial thing we could do leading into the World Cup.”

The June fixtures included some impressive displays to see off Australia and New Zealand’s pool opponents Canada, who are expected to pose another tough challenge for the Kiwis this month, but no route to the final can be plotted without considering England.

The reigning world champions and, for now, professional squad managed to beat their nearest rivals in the rankings in Rotorua this summer. Cocksedge feels the games alone were of benefit to her side. And in a way, so was the 2014 loss to Ireland that kept her away from the business end of the last World Cup. If there was any sense that they took their eye off the ball that day, it won’t happen again.

“We’re really positive coming out of that block in June. We think it was good for us, character building. We know what we need to work on and we’ve worked on it really hard in the last three or four weeks. So for us it’s all about the pool, that’s our main focus. There’s a lot of chat around us playing England, but we can’t think that far ahead. We’ve got to get through pool play first and our biggest game there is going to be Canada.

Rugby Union - IRB Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 - Final - New Zealand v England - Twickenham Stoop Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox (left), Kendra Cocksedge (2nd right) and Justine Lavea (right) celebrate their 2010 World Cup win. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“To lose to Ireland, we were absolutely gutted. But if there was a team to lose to… they deserved the win.

“I’ve won a World Cup and not got out of the pool in another, so motivation is really high and we can’t afford to be complacent because every game is like a World Cup final.”

A fitting challenge.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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