When Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini received word that she had been appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit, she didn't believe it.

The 26-year-old Pāpāmoa resident said she was "extremely surprised" when an email landed in her inbox carrying the good news.

Her disbelief was so great that she even showed her husband, Connor Hirini, the email to ask if it was legitimate.

"It was pretty funny," she laughs. "He said, 'yes it is true and we're all really proud of you'. It was a pretty special moment between us."

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She said being able to share the news with her parents was special as well.

"They have been massively influential during my career and to be able to show them something like that was pretty special," she said.

"I love to play rugby because I love it, and I love representing my country - it's a huge honour," she said.

"I never, ever thought that anything like this was ever possible," she said.

Hirini is no stranger to the limelight, however.

She began playing rugby for Fielding High School before moving on to play for Manawatu from 2009 to 2015 and Bay of Plenty in 2016.

She was a World Champion in 2013, an Olympic silver medalist in 2016 and was named New Zealand Rugby's woman player of the year in 2017.

The Black Ferns will be heading over to France next week to play for the World Series title.

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Once that was over, the team would have a few weeks off before beginning preparation and campaigning for the Olympics.

Her citation for being appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit said: "Her leadership both on and off the field is reflected in the team's successes and she has brought a strong work ethic, leadership and commitment to her appearances for the Black Ferns and the Black Ferns Sevens."

Hirini said she was thankful for the award and hoped other women in rugby would get recognised for their contribution to the sport.


Sarah Hirini's achievements

- Led the Black Ferns Sevens team to victory at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2013 and 2018
- Won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics
- Won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
- Recognised as the Women's Player of the Year at the 2017 New Zealand Rugby Awards and the Best Female Athlete in Oceania at the Association of National Olympic Committees in Prague in 2017.