After a stunning World Cup campaign, life is returning to normal for the Black Ferns. Vaimoana Tapaleao and Brittany Keogh joined two of the team at work.

Teacher Eloise Blackwell

Black Ferns lock Eloise Blackwell returns to work as a PE teacher at Epsom Girls Grammar School. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Black Ferns lock Eloise Blackwell returns to work as a PE teacher at Epsom Girls Grammar School. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Before the bell rings, everybody knows the school superstar is back.

As she walks through the corridors, passing students in between buildings, there are shouts of "Congrats, Miss!", "Well done, Miss Blackwell" and even a solitary "Yeah, Blackwell!"

The hugs come quick and fast and from different directions; a bouquet of flowers is thrust into her arms and teenagers are happy to say hello.


This is no ordinary teacher.

On stage, at an assembly, Epsom Girls' Grammar School's games captain Erin Cory-Wright introduces someone whose goals and dreams are an inspiration.

"I hope you enjoyed our video," referring to a school-sized effort to send the Black Ferns well wishes leading up to their final against England.

"I'm sure that's part of the reason you won," the teenager says, as students roar with laughter.

It is just over two weeks since New Zealand's favourite women's rugby team smashed their way to a thrilling 41-32 win over the Red Roses at the Women's Rugby World Cup final in Belfast, Ireland.

The majority of the team arrived to a winner's welcome in Auckland three days later, while others stayed on.

On her first Monday back, Blackwell, 26, admits she is still jetlagged, having only arrived back on Saturday.

She laughs at one point, when she yawns, but is happy to be back to what she dubs her "real job".

"My real job is a teacher and I guess rugby is my part-time job.

"I'm in a really good position as a teacher, especially at a girls' school - to kind of help influence some of the younger generation coming through."

She worked hard for the job for years, having studied and gained her Bachelor of Education and working at Te Wananga o Aotearoa before taking up a PE teaching role at Epsom Girls.

The past few months were a whirlwind experience, with people often recognising the players while overseas.

"It's crazy. You're just walking through the airport and you're not even in Black Ferns gear and they're like: 'Oh, hey, congrats. Good work on the win!'

"They want a photo and it's like: 'How do you know?' Everywhere we went in Europe it was like that."

Here, however, the players are arguably not recognised so easily on the streets. They may be playing at top international level, but are not paid as professionals.

"It would be nice to be paid to play the sport you love, but we can still be professional without being on professional contracts.
"How you carry yourself outside in the community, making sure you're turning up to trainings, putting out a performance."

She is exactly that - a professional - in her work on the field as well as off it.

When she talks about her students, her eyes light up and she speaks passionately and with a genuine love for what she is to these young people who very clearly look up to her.

"I'm still young and I think that's how I approach my teaching. I try to build a good rapport with these students so that when times are tough or they're having trouble in school, they can come to me and I can help guide them.

"Then at lunchtime, we get the ball out and we have a game of basketball."

Outside school, Blackwell goes home to Great Barrier Island, where her family has lived for generations.

There is lots of fishing and pig hunting and she loves it.

As for the future of women's rugby in New Zealand, she can feel a change happening.

"We've got some really high powers behind us, pushing the women's game and how important it is. I think us winning a world cup again has just shown the hard work and dedication that people put into our sport.

"It can only get better from here."

Firefighter Becky Wood

Fire fighter and Black Fern's prop Becky Wood on her first day back at work at Silverdale Fire Station after the World Cup. Photo / Doug Sherring
Fire fighter and Black Fern's prop Becky Wood on her first day back at work at Silverdale Fire Station after the World Cup. Photo / Doug Sherring

In the quiet riverside village of Silverdale - about 30km north of Auckland - Becky Wood is a familiar face.

A qualified firefighter based at the local station for more than three years, the statuesque 30-year-old is often out in the community helping residents install smoke alarms and teaching pupils at nearby schools about fire safety.

Other days she's off to help with emergency medical events like cardiac arrests or rescuing people stuck inside wreckages after a big car crash.

Her warm, down-to-earth nature has made her popular with locals as well as her colleagues.

But during the past couple of weeks Wood has been attracting attention from much further afield after becoming a world champion.

"Everyone's just been saying, 'I've seen you on the news'. I don't think I'll get used to it," she tells the Herald on Sunday.

"I've had a few people ask me to be guest speakers at stuff and I'm like, 'What? - don't know what I'm going to say'."

It is less than 48 hours since Wood stepped off a plane from Europe where she was holidaying with her partner, Tute Malcolm, for two weeks after the competition and she is already back at work.

But the world cup win is yet to sink in.

Fire fighter and Black Fern's prop Becky Wood with her gold medal from the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup. Photo / Doug Sherring
Fire fighter and Black Fern's prop Becky Wood with her gold medal from the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup. Photo / Doug Sherring

"Even playing, when the whistle blew and we won, it kind of felt like just a game," she says.

"But then it wasn't until before we were getting our medals and I was like: 'This is the world cup final - take it in.'

"And I just stood there and just looked around the fully packed stadium and was like 'Oh my god, this is awesome'."

Since the awards ceremony Wood's medal has travelled everywhere with her in her bag.
"I keep taking it because I'm sure people want to see it. I've just got it to pop out," she says, laughing.

"But I think in a few months' time I'll probably get it done up in a frame with one of my playing jerseys."

Her crew mates and employer Fire and Emergency New Zealand put on a morning tea on Tuesday to celebrate her achievement.

"They've been really supportive. My boss, he got a bit teary yesterday. We had the area management here as well. They said congratulations and that everyone's really proud," she said.

"Today it's almost like I've not been away."

It's a "normal" Tuesday - this morning. Wood's crew have been doing their weekly check on the fire engine to make sure it's working as it should.

"Then just office work at the moment. Nothing too strenuous. The boss said casual day today - obviously unless we get a callout."

The sense of normality is a bit weird, she says, "because the World Cup was something I'd been working towards for so long and now it's done".

Wood started playing rugby after being scouted in Rotorua on a Fire and Emergency New Zealand training course about 3 years ago.

A manager from the Bay of Plenty women's rugby union approached her in a chemist and asked whether she played and got her to contact the coach of the Rotoiti team who invited her to a training.

Wood tried it out and realised the physicality of the game appealed to her.

"I've always been into a bit of rough and tumble growing up."

She played for Auckland in 2014 before moving clubs to East Coast Bays RFC and North Harbour Hibiscus.

Since being selected for the Black Ferns earlier this year, Wood has every weekday pulled on her rugby boots after hanging up her firefighting helmet at the end of a shift.

She'd head straight to training and wouldn't return home until about 9pm.

Then in her spare time she helped Malcolm, who recently set up his own building company, with the accounts.

The couple barely saw each other while Wood was training and so were looking forward to being able to spend more time together.

"We talked about it when I had the opportunity to make the team ... So he sort of knew what he was in for but it has still been really difficult.

"But he's really proud of me. He has been really supportive."

The couple hope to start a family soon and after Wood finishes off the Farah Palmer Cup provincial women's season she will likely take a break from playing rugby.

"Maybe after I've had a couple kids I'll come back to it."