We caught up with IRB Women's Sevens Player of the Year Kayla McAlister who takes us through her rapid rise in the game.
Just over a year ago Kayla McAlister wasn't even playing rugby. The then netballer, who had grown up with a family fully involved in the game, read about a national try-out programme and her meteoric rise in the game culminated in recent weeks with a World Cup title with New Zealand Sevens and her being named the IRB Women's Sevens Player of the Year. She gives us an insight to her rapid rise.
Congratulations on being crowned World Champions! Tell us what the overall experience was like in Russia?
Thank you very much. The experience was one I will never forget. Moscow is a beautiful city and it was amazing to see some of the sites of a massive country with such a huge history. It was very cool!
What did you enjoy most about the tournament?
What I enjoyed most about the tournament was the enormity of the competition, the country, the occasion, and that we were representing our country, our families and our fellow New Zealanders back home. I also thoroughly enjoyed the games. We grew from game one against Tunisia through to our final against Canada. We really stepped up to the occasion and focused on ourselves and what we were there to do which was to take the Cup back to New Zealand, so when the whistle blew to end the final it was an amazing feeling!
Nothing really! Oh maybe an upgrade to Business Class on the way home like our Men’s team? Haha just kidding, it was a great experience overall!
You were playing netball just a year or so ago - how did your reintroduction to rugby start?
I had been playing netball and a bit of touch rugby for the past 16 years and when I heard that Sevens was going to be at the 2016 Olympic Games and that the New Zealand Rugby Union were going around the country with a “Go4Gold” campaign scouting for women from all codes I decided to have a go. The first step was a “screening/trial night” in Auckland, and then it pretty much just rolled on from there. There were further trials and training camps around New Zealand and they were tough - nothing you would see with Netball or touch, so it was a shock to my system. I was then named in the New Zealand side to compete at the Oceania 7s Tournament in Fiji last August. That was an experience I will never forget, representing New Zealand for my first time and in a sport that was new to me! From that tournament and experience, I have never looked back. I then made the side to travel to Dubai for the first leg of the IRB Women’s World Series and then selected for the Houston, China and Amsterdam circuits, and then the World Cup which has just taken place in Russia.
Tell us about your rugby playing background in general.
I haven’t had much of a “playing” rugby background as such but I have had “rugby” in my life since the day I was born with my dad playing professional League and Union and also my brother playing at a high level. So the game has been around me all my life but I didn’t actually start playing the game until last year when this Sevens opportunity arose, apart from playing a one off 15s game back in high school.
Who's been your biggest influence?
My dad Charlie McAlister, mum Trish McAlister and my brother Luke McAlister. I have been blessed in this area and I have been brought up in an environment of excellence. With my mum being a top netballer she has been there for me from day one no matter what and she supports me with anything I do, so I am very thankful to her as well as her screaming on the sidelines and in front of the TV now. My dad, he is my rock, he has been a professional league/rugby player who now coaches and mentors many top rugby and sports people so I am very lucky to have his support and guidance, and lastly my brother who has had and still has an unbelievable rugby career going, his experience and wisdom has been both motivational and humbling for me. I can remember when I was 8-9 years old, when my Dad was training him very hard when he was 12-13 years old and my Dad used to try come and find me to train, but I was hiding under the bed, or in the wardrobe, because I thought Dad was being mean to my brother haha, little did I know, he was preparing him for the rugby and his life’s adventures ahead. Not only is he a brother, but he is also someone I do look up to and admire. Growing up with him and seeing him go through his highs and lows in his personal and sporting life is something I can learn from and to this day he continues to support me 110%.
Will you go back to netball?
It is a possibility, and I still have a lot of for love the game, but at this stage the Rugby 7s is a huge part of my life now moving forward. I enjoy not only our team culture and the game (which I am still learning) but the girls are awesome as well as the management, so I am really excited for what the future holds for me with this sport.
The World Cup final was a thrilling game v Canada - tell us about the game?
Yes it was, Canada are a very strong side and we knew it was going to be a tuff game. With the weather conditions changing for the final, we had to change our game plan up a little bit which in the end worked for us!
What do you do away from rugby?
I enjoy hanging out with family and friends as well as working fulltime for the Ministry of Justice as a Judicial Support Services Officer.
Congratulations on winning World Player of the Year - were you surprised?
Thank you, yes I was, it was a huge honour and privilege to even be named as a nominee with the other four girls, so to receive the award is very special that I will cherish, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teammates and management team.
What sides were you most impressed with in Russia?
All the sides, as there isn’t a lot between most of us as seen in Moscow, so going forward you are going to see the gap get even closer, with teams/coaches hunting for what the top sides are doing in terms of training techniques, systems, patterns etc so we will certainly see the games becoming more even.
I had a few days celebrating with family, friends and the girls, but now I am currently back at work fulltime (who have been very supportive of my 7s). I am also now planning a trip over to Europe for August, so I am looking forward to a break/holiday, then it is back into provincial 7s training/playing for Auckland in September and looking ahead to our Nationals in January 2014.