Sarah Hirini (Ngāti Kahungungu ki Te Wairarapa) has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for her services to rugby.
Hirini (nee Goss) led the national women's sevens team, the Black Ferns Sevens to Commonwealth Games and World Cup Sevens success in 2018, having also won those same titles four years earlier. She made her debut for the team in 2012.
The Manawatū-raised Hirini says being recognised on the honours list has come as an unexpected shock to her, "I play rugby because I love the sport," she told Te Ao Māori news, "[I'm] just a proud Kiwi who wants to represent my country. I didn't ever expect that anything like this would ever happen."
A handy 15 a side player as well, Hirini represented the Black Ferns team in 2017, winning the Women's World Cup in Ireland. Later that year she won the Women's player of the year award at the NZ Rugby Awards and became the first women to be a finalist for the Kel Tremain award for NZ Rugby player of the year. In 2018 Hirini was a finalist for the Tom French Cup for Māori player of the year.
New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew paid tribute to the veteran captain, “Hirini’s tireless work ethic and commitment to the game is unrivalled, and she has been a leading figure in women’s rugby in New Zealand. Hirini has and continues to, enjoy an incredibly successful career and this recognition is well-deserved,” said Tew.
Her work ethic, she says was honed on the family farm near Kimbolton in the Manawatū where she grew up, where the chores had to be completed before she got anything, "it was a humble beginning, but I enjoyed every moment of it." That upbringing on the family's sheep and beef also led to Hirini becoming a competitive shearer, where she became the first women to compete in three Golden Sheers finals.
Hirini lists her proudest achievements as her debut in the black jersey in 2012, in the Oceania Sevens tournament against Tonga, as well as winning a national sevens title with her hometown team of Manawatū in 2013 at Queenstown, "We were a team of so-called no-names. with a belief in our team that it was possible,"
Manawatū have gone on to win 5 titles since then, with Hirini (Goss as she was in December, before marrying her now husband Connor) picked up the Anna Richards Cup for the player of the tournament at the latest tournament in 2018.
Hirini is set to continue leading the way, the most capped female Sevens player will take the field in her 200th match in France next weekend, as the Black Ferns Sevens.
Sarah Hirini would like to see some more of her Black Ferns sevens teammates, as well as other women's rugby players, be recognised in future honours lists.