What makes the Black Ferns culture special? Black Ferns Kendra Cocksedge, Eloise Blackwell and Ruahei Demant share what it's like to be in the Black Ferns environment, and offer an insight into the rituals that bring the culture to life.
It's no surprise that the Black Ferns have a reputation as one of rugby's premier female sides.
At least, that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone offered an insight into the culture that helps drive the Black Ferns to be the best they can be.
The Black Ferns didn't become five-time world champions without a strong sense of culture that unified them on the way to those titles, and the current crop of players speak highly of that sense of unity.
"The Black Ferns team culture… it's quite a hard thing to describe. It's more a feeling," says Black Ferns lock Eloise Blackwell.
"Sacrificing things, working hard for something, turning up for your mates, being accountable – all really important characteristics that can really drive a team."
"People call each other sis all the time, and in our team, people mean it. People treat each other like sisters."
Ruahei Demant, Black Ferns utility back
Ruahei Demant, a Black Ferns utility back, echoes Blackwell's sentiments as she describes her teammates as sisters.
"In sport, in rugby, I think the word 'sis' is thrown around a lot," the 10-Test international said.
"People call each other sis all the time, and I think, in our team, it's meant. People mean it. People treat each other like they're sisters.
"It's a culture of being open. People can be vulnerable and people can be open to create trust."
Demant adds that culture also carries with it an expectation that those within the Black Ferns are held to account to uphold the standards required to be the best in the world.
"Being there for each other. Sometimes it's a good thing because you have each other's back. Sometimes it's a bad thing because it means you can call someone out.
"You want to be able to look your teammate in the eye and know that you've got their back and they've got your back, that we're living, breathing those standards all the time."
Watch! Becoming a Black Fern video series
The Black Ferns explain what it takes to make it to the top of women's rugby in Healthspan Elite's four-part video series.
It's that demand of yourself and your teammates that makes the Black Ferns squad such an enjoyable environment to be in, according to long-standing halfback Kendra Cocksedge.
"I've been in there a long time and the reason I come back is because of the girls and the environment that they create," the 53-test international says.
"[Ex-Black Ferns captain] Fiao'o Fa'amausili retired and came back because you kind of miss that environment and almost have, not a fear, but [you think about] what life will be outside of that environment."
Being held to account for their training and playing performances is one of many ways in which the Black Ferns thrive in the culture they have developed.
Another fundamental aspect that enables the Black Ferns' culture to flourish is the team haka.
Learning and understanding the importance of Ko Uhia Mai is vital in bringing together and unifying a squad that is as diverse as they come.
Composed of players who have many different backgrounds, the haka is a focal point of the Black Ferns' identity, and its significance isn't lost on the playing contingent.
"I reckon we would dedicate just as much time to the haka, or practicing the haka, as we would at training," says Blackwell, a 43-test veteran.
"I remember my first time performing it. I don't think I knew all the words. I just got lost in the moment.
"When you're out there on the field, you draw on the strength of others and you can feel their mana and everything."
Demant said that before she debuted for the Black Ferns, watching and learning the haka word-for-word was her favourite part of the game.
"I reckon we would dedicate just as much time to the haka, or practicing the haka, as we would at training."
Eloise Blackwell, Black Ferns lock
Now a part of the Black Ferns squad, she says the haka gives her a sense of pride in representing her country.
"The haka grounded me, and it always does before games. It grounds me in that moment. I love laying down that challenge to other teams and I love the mana that it gives me to go out and play for my country."
Demant adds that performing the haka is representative of how the Black Ferns integrate Maori culture into everyday life when the squad is in camp.
"Coming together is always so exciting because we're so diverse," she says.
"What brings us together is our Maori culture. We always assembled on a karakia. We always have waiata, haka, and it's always something that unites us wherever we go.
"Whether we're here in Aotearoa, and especially when we're away, it's our point of difference and our culture of this country is something that unites us together."
A special environment
Given the array of personalities and backgrounds within the squad, the unification of the Black Ferns players is imperative to their success on the world stage.
However, being able to call upon the side's Maori culture has eased that process and helped create a welcoming environment for those coming into the side.
"There's mothers and we've got high school kids," says Blackwell.
"When you come back into the Black Ferns environment, it's so accepting of all of that and somehow it mixes into some crazy fruit salad mix bag of cultures and laughing and singing.
"It really is a special environment to be involved in."
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