We caught up with New Zealand scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge after the Black Fern's successful Super Series campaign last month, where they beat England, USA and Canada.
Last month’s Super Series, which featured some of the world’s top women’s rugby nations went by almost unnoticed apart from some decent local media coverage.
The tour featuring USA, Canada, England and New Zealand, came less than a year after the World Cup, when the game’s spotlight is shining towards Rio and firmly on sevens for the next 12 months.
In the end, arguably the tournament won by the Black Ferns, was almost developmental with every side featuring scores of new players and trying out a raft of new combinations. But with the World Cup cycle cut by a year to avoid a clash with the Rugby World Cup Sevens, quietly the Super Series was a vital point for teams to kickstart their two-year countdown to the tournament in Ireland in 2017.
For New Zealand it also kick-started a renewal process, with, having crashed out of the World Cup last year in the pool stages, the Super Series represented a chance to start again, with 12 new players in the squad and with plenty to prove for everyone else.
For scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge, one of the standout Black Ferns over the three games, there was positional importance too as she aims to move ahead of veteran number 9 Emma Jenson, with whom she has battled for the shirt since she debuted in 2007.
Cocksedge, who is also a kicker, is a different sort of scrum half to Jenson and while the two shared the shirt fairly evenly at the World Cup last summer, it was the latter who started the bigger games against Ireland and USA at the pool stages. Cocksedge says the rivalry pushes her.
“EJ’s experience and knowledge of the game has been massive for myself and the Black Ferns and I have learned a lot from her in the last eight years. I am always asking questions and she’s always happy to answer them.”
“We have been competing for the jersey since my debut and it’s been very healthy for me and has motivated me to work harder and no doubt it has been the same for her. There are times when things get a bit niggly - usually during our NPC campaign - but what happens on the field stays on the field - that’s just the competitiveness coming out.”
As time passes, New Zealand’s players can look back more pragmatically on last year’s World Cup and at the shock defeat to Ireland which dumped them out of a tournament they had dominated for decades.
“It hurt to have that taken away from us,” Cocksedge reflects.
“You can’t be complacent and every game is a World Cup final and unfortunately we lost one game and didn’t have the opportunity to make up for it. We knew Ireland were good and were going to be the toughest in the pool and big-ups for them, they played well and deserved to win.”
“I can tell you now that we will definitely be back fighting for the title in 2017. The girls are hungrier than ever. The Super Series last month showed this. But we need to focus on the development of new girls coming through and keep working hard on and off the field. The more games we can get on an international stage, the better.”
To that end the recent Super Series will have been a blessing for the Black Ferns with a chance for new faces to stake their claim for the next two years and a chance for players like Cocksedge to get back out there and move on from last year’s disappointments.
“For us it was fantastic to have such an awesome series a year after the World Cup. There are a lot of people that finish up after the World Cup and people who are involved with 7s so it was a great tournament to give the young and new faces the opportunity to play international rugby.”
“Big ups to Canada from a players’ perspective - it was a well ran series from quality fields to good crowds and media coverage. We know where we are at this point in time after winning the series. It has given us some confidence. But there is no down time, there are always work-ons we are now back on the grind in our regions because every day from now to the 2017 World Cup is important.”
Winning every game too was important she adds.
“For the Black Ferns, this year was about restoration and developing, so to win all the games was a massive bonus - especially with 12 new girls. It has given us some confidence.”
“I thought the quality of all teams was fantastic. It was important that you couldn’t take any teams lightly because the growth over a year in the game is massive. We don’t play some of these teams year in and year out. So it could be a good two years before you play them again which is a long time to develop and get better.”
In New Zealand where the women’s national sevens team lead the world, there will duly be a strong emphasis over the next 12 months on the short form of the game in the lead up the Olympics. Cocksedge had once hoped to be part of it but now is pinning her focus on 15s but hopes the two games can work together.
“To start with sevens was a focus of mine and I’ve been unsuccessful in that so I am now fully focused on XVs and loving it. I want to be a part of the 2017 World Cup team. I also want to be able to give my knowledge and leadership to the new girls coming through.”
“At times the two games running side by side will have its ups and downs. As long as the two s keep working together it’s going to have a positive impact. There are some girls that may want to start playing sevens and strive to go the Olympics and then pick up 15s and vice versa. It’s getting the game out there and its giving the coaches the opportunity to develop players if people are unavailable.”