Murupara welcomes World Cup champion home

By James Perry

Natalie Delamere and her whānau with 'Nancy' the RWC cup at Murupara last week. Photo/Waiariki MWWL - FB

While the country waits to acknowledge the Black Ferns' remarkable Rugby World Cup victory next month in Wellington, small communities around the motu are continuing to celebrate their local heroes as they return home.

Two weeks ago Krystal Murray made an emotional journey through Kaitāia as she was welcomed home and last week the small Bay of Plenty town of Murupara lined the streets to welcome their champion, Natalie Delamere and the World Cup trophy home.

"I wasn't expecting much. I was just expecting to come home and chill. But my mum told me, 'no you've gotta go and do the proper thing and go around and say 'Hi' to everyone." 

It means the cup, affectionately named 'Nancy' by the Black Ferns in honour of World War II hero, Nancy Wake, is also getting around the country and inspiring future grassroots rugby heroes.

"I messaged Renee [retiring Black Fern legend, Renee Wickliffe] because she had the trophy. So I wasn't too sure if she let me have it for the day, but she did and everyone was stoked they were like, 'Is it the real cup?' And I'm like 'Yeap, that's the only cup!'

"There's only one and we just make it work. If you gotta go pick it up all the way in Tauranga you gotta go pick it up in Tauranga."

The Tūhoe and Whānau a Apanui uri, like Murray in her hometown a week before, is hopeful her community bearing witness to success inspires future generations of Murupara tamariki to follow their dreams.

"If I can inspire them to want to get out and see the world and experience what I've experienced, if not different things and better things, then I hope this sets it for them to go out and see the world and meet people. Because there's so much more out there."

Delamere, born and bred in the forestry town at the edge of the Kaingaroa Forest, first took up rugby as a 15-year-old and hasn't looked back since. 

"My older sister made the move to rugby after playing all these other sports. And then I wanted to play one day, I asked if I could play like now, and they were like, 'Nah, it's your sister's sport'. Then I asked my dad and he said yes, so it was all on from there.

"I think I dropped everything else just to play rugby and I've like made all these adjustments to continue to play rugby because I actually love the sport. And because living in Murupara it was difficult to get the training I mean, we travelled to school from Murupara by bus each day. And I guess if you love it so much you just make it work. Yeah, and I've just been making it work ever since."

Aussie callup

"Making it work" has seen Delamere play for Rotoiti, Rangiuru and Waikato University clubs while representing Bay of Plenty and Waikato at Farah Palmer Cup level. She turned down an opportunity to join the Chiefs Manawa to link up with Matatū in the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki competition, hoping to develop exclusively as a hooker. 

Unfortunately, for the 26-year-old, Covid stifled her opportunities before a chance encounter with Australian-based teammate Arabella McKenzie saw her cross the Tasman and play for New South Wales in the Australian Super Rugby W competition. She quickly became the first-choice hooker and scored three tries in the final against Fiji Drua. 

That was enough to earn her a call-up to the Black Ferns, making her debut in June and ultimately a place in world cup history.

"I literally just flew into the country and the day after I got the call from the Black Ferns. It was just unexpected. But yeah, a hell of a journey."

Tai Mitchell Shield

The street parade for Delamere and 'Nancy' capped off a successful year for rugby in Murupara, with the local JAB team, Galatea, winning the prestigious Tai Mitchell Shield for the first time in its 82-year history.

"It was really cool to hear that the Tai Mitchell had done really well because I don't think they've won in a long time. And for them to come back and I think the community celebrated them as well.

"I was trying to say, 'we should get them up on a truck or something, they can go around and wave too but it was a little bit short notice. You know, it was really cool to get out there and do the parade."