Rugby: Keeping up with the big boys

By Cameron Leslie

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Northland Black Fern Aleisha Nelson is holding her own against her male rugby counterparts at training. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Northland Black Fern Aleisha Nelson is holding her own against her male rugby counterparts at training. Photo/Michael Cunningham

There's no doubting Kaihu Valley's Aleisha Nelson can foot it with the boys. After all, the Black Ferns prop trains with them.

The 24-year-old even goes as far as saying some of the women she plays against internationally are bigger and stronger than her Western Sharks premier men's team training partners.

"The English are probably bigger and musclier than half the boys I train with so it is great to be able to train with them," the three test capped Nelson laughed.

"Some of them do [take it easy on her], naturally I'm a girl, then I hit them and they get angry and don't want to look stupid so they hit back."

For Nelson it's about making the most of the resources which she has on offer, saying maintaining a high performance training model was difficult at times - especially when throwing travel and work into the mix.

Although the dilemma is welcome in some ways as it signifies the long road she has travelled to get to the top.

"Since I've moved back it's so hard, no one even knows about the Black Ferns. It was hard to motivate myself to train being so secluded from the girls.

"I think [being from Northland has helped], I enjoy playing with the boys and training with them because I get competitive and I want to hit them hard because you don't want to look stupid."

As with most top level sportspeople, problem solving is a strong point.

Nelson has made the most of a messy situation by training with the Western Sharks, travelling to Auckland during the club season twice a week, and will up her dedication to three times a week travel once the national provincial competition kicks off later this year.

After playing for Kaihu Valley Rugby Club - which is in its centenary year currently - as a child, Nelson moved to Epsom Girls' Grammar School where she began mixing with serious female rugby players.

"That's when I started playing women's rugby, otherwise I was playing with the boys.

"There were lots of Black Ferns around there, teaching and coming to coach us, and that's how I got into club rugby down there."

Since boarding at Epsom Girls' Grammar, Nelson went on to study at AUT University and become a nurse - and currently works part time at Kauri Coast Rest Home and Hospital in Dargaville.

Nelson said that her time at AUT helped her establish herself in the Auckland club rugby scene, playing for Ponsonby.

"It's quite a social environment at club level, we're always hanging out with each other and when we get to that serious level we're going hard to try and smash people - hopefully.

"The skill has changed so much - back in the day it was just forwards run it straight, they didn't have to pass the ball, it was just scrum and lineouts but now the fitness level of the props and the skill level you have to have is amazing."

While Nelson is representing New Zealand at the highest level in rugby, she said the environment in which they were in differed hugely from their male counterparts.

She said her team weren't paid a salary like the All Blacks, but rather had an allowance for when they were with the team.

Nelson and her abilities will be on show this Sunday when the Black Ferns, along with fellow Northlander Portia Woodman, face Australia in Rotorua in a game which will be televised live on Sky Sports.

Next week, also, Nelson and the Black Ferns will get some television time as they play a unique test against Manusina Samoa as a curtain-raiser to the first of three All Blacks v England test matches in the Steinlager Series on June 7.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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