Heartbreak to heroism: Regina Sheck's remarkable rugby tale

By Adam Julian


  • Regina Sheck played a significant role in the Black Ferns’ history, winning two World Cups and contributing to the growth of women’s rugby in New Zealand.
  • Sheck’s journey is marked by resilience and determination, overcoming personal tragedy and challenges to succeed on and off the field.
  • Beyond rugby, Sheck is deeply involved in community work, particularly with Blue Light, a charity aimed at youth development and crime prevention.
  • Her coaching philosophy emphasises values and character development, aiming to instil life skills in young players and contribute positively to their personal growth.

At least 75 former players and coaches attended a Black Ferns reunion in Hamilton before the Black Ferns 43-3 victory over Australia on September 30.

The gathering accounts for almost a quarter of the entire Black Ferns playing history.

Regina Sheck is always at these things, and with good reason. The redoubtable prop with an affable personality played 25 tests between 1994 and 2004 winning the World Cup in 1998 and 2002. For two decades she’s been a coach at the grassroots level.

It was her stirring displays in the Black Ferns maiden World Cup triumph in Amsterdam that sealed her legend.

In the final against the USA, Sheck, and Dame Farah Palmer were the only forwards to score a try (wing Vanessa Coutts got five) as the Black Ferns smashed the 1991 winners 44-12.

(L to R) Regina Sheck, Suzy Shortland and Anna Richards line up before the 1998 Women's Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Joanna Caird / Photosport
(L to R) Regina Sheck, Suzy Shortland and Anna Richards line up before the 1998 Women's Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Joanna Caird / Photosport

NZPA expanded upon Sheck’s impact.

“Prop Regina Sheck epitomised the outstanding all around skill of the New Zealanders. She had a hand in two of (Vanessa) Cootes’ tries and saved a certain American try with a come from behind ankle tap on one of their speedsters.”

Such expression and success appeared unlikely less than a month earlier. Sheck was struck by a personal tragedy.

“We played a warmup match at Eden Park before we left. Mum was in Auckland with my sister Sia and daughter Jaemie for the holidays. Mum who’d never seen me play in a black jersey was going to come and watch,” Sheck explained.

“She never saw the game. My sister has Down syndrome and needed a babysitter. Mum couldn’t find one, so she never came. I didn’t know anything was up, but Mum must have. A week later she died.”

In 2001 Sheck suffered her only defeat in a test to England. By her own admission, she was unfit and the Barcelona World Cup in 2002 seemed like a pipe dream. Again, Sheck dug deep, and the Black Ferns won the tournament without conceding a try or losing a scrum or lineout.

“We had to write a letter to management explaining why we should still be on the team. We adopted a slogan better than before or BTB which meant everything went up a notch. I remember training on the North Shore and the All Blacks were training at the same time. They said you scrum harder than us.”

Regina Sheck received her cap during the Black Ferns reunion dinner on June 8, 2018. Photo / All Blacks Collection / Getty Images
Regina Sheck received her cap during the Black Ferns reunion dinner on June 8, 2018. Photo / All Blacks Collection / Getty Images

Fast forward to the Hamilton reunion and Sheck noticed younger Black Ferns in their own clique, so she intervened.

“I call our pioneers the 89ers. They pretty much go to all the capping ceremonies and reunions which is awesome,” Sheck said.

“There were a few girls I knew from club rugby murmuring about them. It was a bit like juniors in high school not wanting to approach the seniors. I said go and have a chat with them. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.

“I started playing in 1992 so I played with and against some of the pioneers. I played for a few different provinces, and I’m still involved in rugby, so I cover a wide scope of Black Ferns history. To have that generational support for the jersey is so important and special.”

The Black Ferns underwhelmed in the recent WXV 1 series losing against France and England. Sheck is not panicking about those results.

“There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done after 2022. There are new coaches, new players and when you look at the comparative experience of that English side right now it’s unlikely anyone would beat them,” Sheck said.

“I think we’ve got some really exciting players coming through and combos that will grow and serve us for a long time. As long as the structures and standards Sir Wayne Smith brought back to the Black Ferns stay then we should be in a good place by World Cup 2025.”

At the 2002 World Cup, the Black Ferns adopted a song Nga Mamaku or The Black Ferns that was specifically composed for them by Pania Papa and Leanne Sperling-Muntz, friends of Sheck. Papa explained the inspiration for the song came when she was travelling back to Tokoroa amongst the trees and the falling rain.

The song reflected the matriarchal nature of the black fern, a native plant that stands tall and gains its sustenance from the wind, water, and sun. The song reflected togetherness and strength which became key messages asserted in the present-day Black Ferns haka composed by Te Whetu Tipiwai in 2006.

Connecting the past with the present and encouraging youngsters to be the best version of themselves is what drives Sheck in her coaching and work for Blue Light, a registered charity that works in partnership with the police to deliver an extensive range of youth programmes and activities to reduce the incidence of young people becoming an offender or victim of crime.

Regina Sheck in action against Spain in the 1998 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. Photo / Joanna Caird / Photosport
Regina Sheck in action against Spain in the 1998 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. Photo / Joanna Caird / Photosport

Sheck was a senior police constable between 1992 and 2009. She has been a heartbeat of Blue Light campaigns (mostly voluntary until 2020) since 1988.

“When I started, I don’t think we had an employee. Now we’ve got over 100 with several government contracts nationwide,” Sheck said.

“My first Blue Light event was a disco in Tokoroa. Primary school kids and teenagers would come along and dance to music in a safe place with no drugs or alcohol. Justice, Corrections, schoolteachers, police - all the officials would join in. What this showed is when we take off our uniform we are all part of the same community.”

Blue Light (free for the participant) has expanded into branches that deliver localised programmes to cater to their communities. In Tokoroa school holiday camps have taken children to rugby matches and the Warriors in Auckland. On the North Shore accessible kayaking, mountain biking and rafting have helped youngsters build confidence and camaraderie.

On a national scale, the most important programmes Blue Light delivers are Life Skills camps for at-risk youth. These programmes are held in Taupō, Trentham, Burnham and Whenuapai with the support of the Ministry of Defence.

“The first day is always the toughest. The kids don’t like the fact there’s structure and rules. They don’t like their phones and vapes being confiscated but by graduation Friday some of them receive the first certificate of their lives in front of family and we get testimonials about how that week changed their life,” Sheck said.

With four brothers, two TV channels and an athletics club across the road, life growing up in Tokoroa was simple for Sheck. Sport dominated and she was a Waikato football and softball representative winning a national title in 1989 as a goalkeeper in the latter code. She dabbled in touch and netball before rugby took over.

“We were outside until we were told to come inside and then you wanted to go outside again. We didn’t have a lot, but we used our imaginations and helped each other. In summer we’d play bullrush which taught agility and strength. In winter we’d play cards or make up our own games like building forts with firewood,” Sheck recalled.

It’s that resourcefulness and toughness Sheck has applied her coaching at a secondary school level with Tokoroa High School, Tangaroa College, Howick College, McAuley High School, Harlequins and Waikato Schools. At a senior level, she’s worked with SURF (Waikato), Taupiri, Belmont Shore (California) and Papatoetoe.

“I’m a values-based coach. When you run around the cone you run right around the cone, you don’t cut corners because you can’t do that in life. At a high school level, I don’t like it how some First XV players are placed on a pedestal, wag class, are disrespectful, and are still on the team. That doesn’t cut it with me,” Sheck said.

“Good coaching can equip youngsters with the tools that help them become a better person in life.”

This story was originally published at Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.