By Mana Wikaire-Lewis and video journalist Nick Winter
“The first thing I noticed when we walked out of Eden Park, in that first match against Aussie, was the poi," the Black Ferns’ ‘smiling assassin’ Stacey Fluhler (Ngāi Tūhoe) says.
Teaomāori.news was talking to her, just a week after her Black Ferns’ historic win at the Rugby World Cup.
“Everyone was swinging them around and it made me so proud – no other country in the world can do that because they don’t have that within their cultures.
“You saw the Canadian girls, the Japanese, the Scottish all get amongst it on TikTok.”
It’s a team that’s embraced and incorporated many different elements of te ao Māori for themselves and the world cup.
Special moments include the #ItsPoiTime campaign that encouraged crowds to swing poi in unison during the RWC, and women’s 15s breakthrough player of the year Ruby Tui’s crowd-uniting rendition of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi in her post-match interview.
Rugby, World Cup, te ao Māori - the perfect combination.
“We have so many different ethnic groups in our team so to bring everyone together and learn our Māori waiata, haka, karakia and incorporate our reo into it, I think that’s what sets us apart from the rest,” Fluhler says.
She says they’ve even changed formations of the rōpū when performing the pre-match haka, much as kapa haka groups do for their performances.
'Stoked' at unexpected bonus
“I think the girls were more scared about performing the haka than they were playing the game but they never said no. They got on with it, they learned it and that’s what makes a team bonding so special.
Asked about the $25,000 bonus the team got from Rugby NZ, Fluhler says, despite the comparison to All Blacks players getting much more, she is stoked.
“How long have they been in the All Blacks team? How long have they been successful? We’ll get there, we’ll 100% get there.
"Last world cup we got $10,000, this one we got $25,000 – it’s got to build. It’s only going to get better from here.”
Among all of her achievements to date in her illustrious rugby career, “absolutely nothing beats playing at a sold-out Eden Park, 42,000 people, in front of all your friends and family here in Aotearoa,” she says.
“It’s amazing for the Black Ferns, for women in rugby, for women in sport not just in New Zealand but all around the world.”