History will be made in the women’s game on Friday night at Albany’s QBE Stadium.
For Storm hooker Fiao’o Fa’amausili will run out for her 100th game for Auckland, an unprecedented feat. Halfback Emma Jensen passed the 100 mark a few weeks ago, though she appeared for two provinces, Waikato and Auckland.
Fa’amausili debuted back for Auckland back in 1999 at the dawn of the NPC. She cannot remember much of her first game or the opposition, but can recall her teammates.
“I know I would have been playing with some of the legends of the game such as Davida White, Monique Hirovanaa and Suzy Shortland, all those who have set the pathway for us in the blue and white hoops,” says Fa’amausili, who just last month won her fourth Women’s Rugby World Cup with the Black Ferns, and sailed past a record 50 test caps for her country.
“I’m very proud. I never thought I‘d get to 100 and I’ve never counted how many I’ve played. It’s quite a surprise. I’m very humbled and it’s an exciting moment, but it’s about the team, not the individuals, so I’m happy to run out there with the girls I’ve played with for a while,” says the south Auckland policewoman.
Tough as teak but with a nose for the tryline – with no less than 44 tries in her 99 Storm matches – Fa’amausili has played in almost all of Auckland’s 15 NPC final triumphs dating back to her first year. Her form in 2011 led to recognition as New Zealand Rugby’s women’s player of the year.
It is hard for her to pinpoint a particular game as highlight, as the dominance has been stark, but she is unequivocal on her favourite ground: Eden Park.
Her century may have come last weekend against the Wellington Pride, but she was in Australia checking on a sick relative. So her 100th will be against the Harbour Hibiscus in the Farah Palmer Cup. But the 5.05pm kickoff will not be preceded by a leisurely sleep-in and preparation. Instead she will be doing a 5am-1pm police shift.
“It’s a long day, but we’re used to it,” she quips.
It is, in fact, a big few days. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the celebration, at Manukau’s Vodafone Events Centre, of the Black Ferns’ triumph, while on Saturday she turns 37 and her friends are taking her out.
So will we see her back in 2018 for her Marist club and with the Storm?
“There is a possibility. Things may change but I’ll definitely be around helping as much as I can,” she says.
Renowned for her mental toughness, Fa’amausili was keen to don the blue and white jersey again less than a week after the WRWC final win over England. She was given a few extra days off, but was back, from the bench, for Jensen’s 100th NPC outing against Canterbury on September 9. While hooker Karina Stowers is the Storm co-captain, Fa’amausili has no problems job-sharing with her clubmate.
“Her leadership has shone through. I’m just there on the fringes, making sure I play my part in the team. Karina is a great asset to the Auckland Storm team.”
The women’s rugby landscape has changed out of sight since 1999. Fa’amausili has seen all the changes first-hand.
“It’s improved massively. A lot of girls are playing now, which is great to see. Club rugby and the skills have improved too. The resources available are a lot better. The older girls step up and share their knowledge with the younger girls,” she says.
Auckland Rugby will present Fa’amausili with a special kauri-carved Auckland jersey after Friday night’s match.
“This is a special achievement. One hundred games for one provincial union has never been achieved before by a female athlete, so Fiao’o will be entering a class of her own,” says Auckland Rugby chief executive Jarrod Bear.
“Auckland Rugby is very proud of Fiao’o’s upcoming milestone and for all which Fiao’o has contributed to Auckland Rugby and New Zealand rugby. She continually and positively promotes female participation in rugby.”
– Campbell Burnes