As Bay of Plenty's female rugby representatives, the Volcanix, play their first game of their Farah Palmer Cup campaign today their overall goal is clear - to play like they want to win the Premiership division come finals day on October 26. Sports reporter David Beck goes behind the scenes to get a first-hand taste of what it's like to train like a Volcanix player preparing for their competition season. As someone who can count the number of successful tackles he's ever made on one hand, he joined in on a training session, literally putting his body on the line, testing his own rugby skills and fitness levels - fumbles, tackles and all - against the best female rugby players in the Bay of Plenty.
Two seasons of junior rugby from the age of 9 was all it took for me to realise my inability to tackle and aversion to physical contact would prevent any sort of rugby career.
In my 28 years on this earth, I have played football since I was 3 and those two seasons of rugby as a 9 and 10-year-old with the Paraparaumu Rugby Club is as far as my experience playing our national game spans.
While I've always been a massive sports fan and played plenty of football and cricket, I was not a rough and tumble kid. While other boys were falling out of trees and wrestling, I read the Harry Potter book series 10 times.
Therefore, when I decided to join a Bay of Plenty Volcanix training session ahead of their opening game in the Farah Palmer Cup campaign against Counties Manukau today, I was equal parts eager for a taste of the preparation involved for their competition season and absolutely terrified.
I've covered three seasons of Baywide women's rugby so I know for a fact these women hit hard. I've seen the likes of Luka Connor and Kendra Reynolds absolutely obliterate opposition players and I had no doubt they would have no problem putting a sports reporter in his place.
It was a cold, windy night in Te Puke, where the team trains. I laced up my boots and started mentally preparing myself. To make matters worse, I need glasses to see and had run out of contact lenses. So not only was I nervous about my abilities, I was half blind.
Training started with a team huddle during which head coach Rodney Gibbs introduced me: "David has decided to mix things up a bit and actually join in tonight. He told me he really wants to know what it feels like to get smashed."
During the huddle the team discussed the last pre-season game - what went well and what needed to be worked on. Gibbs and his assistant coaches, Tanerau Latimer and Matt Wallis, led the discussion but encouraged input from everyone. I was already getting a strong sense of unity.
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Volcanix ready for tough battle in Farah Palmer Cup opener
I had been thinking to myself I played enough touch rugby as a child to back my ability to catch and pass. As long as we didn't do anything to really highlight my lack of pace, I might be okay.
We split into forwards and backs. God only knows how I ended up with the backs when I have the figure of a prop who retired 40 years ago. After a quick warm-up, it was straight into sprints - my worst nightmare.
I had flashbacks to school athletics, where I was so slow I started forgetting my PE gear each year so I didn't have to participate.
Luckily, the players were super friendly. They absolutely blitzed me in the sprints, don't get me wrong, but they were at least encouraging of my efforts.
We moved on to drills aimed at simulating in-game situations. This is where I got really lost. The only rugby I've played was at such a junior level that we never learned about playing with structure or cleaning out rucks. I've watched plenty of rugby and have plenty of knowledge about the game but being out there, in the middle of it, was a different story.
I quickly got pushed out to the wing where I couldn't get in the way. The thing that stood out to me was the emphasis on communication. The different calls for different plays and always ensuring every player knew exactly what their role was.
We played a full field game of touch. I was quite pleased with how I was going. I'd made some touches, taken a few hit-ups and hadn't embarrassed myself. Until the dreaded intercept.
I received the ball from the halfback and knew Janina Khan was on my right. She was screaming "Don't pass it!" but my mind was made up. I didn't compute her instructions fast enough, threw the pass and it was intercepted, resulting in a try for the other team.
While other boys were falling out of trees and wrestling, I read the Harry Potter book series 10 times.
We moved on to tackling drills which I felt may have been added just to give the women a real shot at me. One player ran diagonally across a box with a ball while another lined them up and tackled them.
My first go with the ball I was against Kendra Reynolds, one of the previously mentioned big hitters. She had a look on her face that told me she wasn't about to go easy. My instincts were right. I still have a bruised hip from where she drove me into the ground.
Whenever it was my turn to tackle I seemed to find myself on the ground, clinging to an ankle. My technique was ineffective to say the least but it's good to have work-ons, I guess.
The Volcanix are ready to reach new heights this season. Throughout training, there were laughs and banter, but also a steely focus.
They are organised and motivated. They have each other's back and the desire for success is infectious. They beat Auckland 25-22 in the relegation playoff at the end of last season to keep their place in the Premiership and will no doubt show they deserve to be there this season.
Today the Volcanix officially get their 2019 season under way against Counties Manukau. Playing in the Premiership division they'll also face defending champions Canterbury, Wellington, Manawatu, Waikato and Auckland and I can't wait to see more of what our Volcanix are capable of in coming weeks.
Bay of Plenty's Farah Palmer Cup fixtures:
Week 1 vs Counties Manukau at Tauranga Domain, Tauranga - August 31, 2.30pm.
Week 2 vs Wellington at Jerry Collins Stadium, Porirua - September 7, 1pm.
Week 3 vs Auckland at Rugby Park, Whakatāne - September 14, 2.30pm.
Week 4 vs Waikato at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton - September 21, 12.35pm.
Week 5 Bye.
Week 6 vs Manawatu at Tauranga Domain, Tauranga - October 5, 12.35pm.
Week 7 vs Canterbury at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch - October 13, 2.05pm.
Bay of Plenty Volcanix team named for opener:
1. Angel Mulu (6)
2. Luka Connor (25)
3. Baye Jacob (12)
4. Karli Faneva* (0)
5. Kelsie Wills* (0)
6. Christie Yule (C) (19)
7. Kendra Reynolds (25)
8. Natalie Delamere (7)
9. Jade Tuilaepa (10)
10. Mystery McLean Kora (13)
11. Olivia Richardson (4)
12. Azalleyah Maaka* (0)
13. Danielle Paenga* (0)
14. Natalie Walford* (0)
15. Sapphire Tapsell (20)
16. Lily Florence (20)
17. Janina Khan (31)
18. Amanda Aldridge (12)
19. Tynealle Fitzgerald (4)
20. Arorangi Tauranga* (0)
21. Tania-Rose Raharuhi (14)
22. Anahera Mohi (6)
* Denotes debut
() Denotes number of games