As a rugby devotee and a brilliant servant to the legal profession, the importance of impartiality is something Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu knows only too well.

The New Zealander of Samoan descent has spent her life applying the letter of the law and has just become the first woman chair of Oceania Rugby’s Judicial Committee after a decade working as a judicial liaison officer with the regional association.

“I was privileged to be able to nominate her, for I could not think of a more suitable person for that role,” said World Rugby Judicial Officer, Nigel Hampton QC, who hailed Heather-Latu as “an outstanding candidate”.

Known universally as Brenda, Heather-Latu’s sporting passion and career as a barrister, solicitor and Attorney General of Samoa have dovetailed nicely over the years and the Wellingtonian is looking forward to getting stuck into a role she believes is massively important to the health of the sport.

“To have been considered for the role of Chair was, and is, truly an honour,” she said.

“The rugby judiciary is very much a ‘behind the scenes’ necessity to ensure the laws of the game are fairly, impartially and consistently applied.

“The laws of the game ensure that rugby’s core values of integrity, respect, solidarity, passion and discipline can flourish in any game of rugby wherever it is being played by whoever is playing it.

“I hope to bring my experience as a prosecutor and advocate to the role, my knowledge of the region, and will be heavily reliant upon the experience and talents of the members of the Oceania Judicial Committee to fill the gaps.”

Removing barriers

While something of a trailblazer, Heather-Latu says the growing influence of women can only be a good thing for the game as a whole.

“I was brought up to expect that if there was a goal or objective which I desired, then through hard work and diligence it could be achievable and that my culture, my gender and my upbringing would add exciting sprinkles to the whole mix,” she said.

“Removing all barriers to the aspirations of new entrants to the game, small and remote unions, those with disabilities, talent-rich but resource-poor unions, and more diversity in the sport requires attention.

“Women and girls playing and choosing rugby is a story of passion drive and success, and with their growing involvement at all levels, in all capacities, the game has been enriched and made fit for its mission as ‘a sport for all, true to its values’.”

Avid fan

Heather-Latu’s interest in rugby is as deep-seated as the values of the game she will attempt to uphold.

“My late, beloved dad Tao (Rocky) Heather was a player and coach in Wellington in the 1960s and ‘70s and I accompanied him proudly, first as a team mascot as a four/five-year-old, and later as his bag carrier until I was a teenager,” she revealed.

“My mother was also an avid fan and used to cut the oranges for half-time, wash the jerseys for the team each week and act as team mother and counsellor, and still wanders down to the local club to watch games in her 80s and has the Rugby Channel playing constantly on her TV.”

Inspired by seeing the likes of ‘BG’ Williams, Colin Meads and Ian Kirkpatrick at the nearby Athletic Park in Wellington, a bleary-eyed Brenda and her family would stay up to all hours watching the All Blacks on tour in the British Isles.

“I’m overwhelmed and very grateful to my parents for instilling in me a love of the game,” she said.

“Whether watching at Athletic Park or at the Oriental Rongotai and Poneke fields in Wellington or watching the ‘middle of the night’ tests on TV, the game was very much a part of our lives and brought great hope, great expectation and if our team won, great joy!”

Myriad of allegiances

Western Samoa’s success at Rugby World Cup 1991 won the respect of the Samoan diaspora in New Zealand, and Heather-Latu found herself supporting the land of her parents as well as Tonga once she married former international prop George Latu.

“I have continued to manage a myriad of allegiances for many teams, from the land of my birth – New Zealand; the land of my parents – Samoa; the land of my husband – Tonga; and the lands of my distant forebears – England and Ireland.

“I find that my current role as Honorary Counsel for Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Samoa, perhaps beautifully reflects the modern reality of the game, which for many supporters is a completely holistic view of rugby which simply looks at a game and the skill of the players, and marvels at their talent rather than barracking for just one particular team.

“The good-natured support by cities in the host country for other international teams was well demonstrated by the kind people of Japan in last year’s World Cup, and proves that sport played fairly and expertly, can still bring people together…‘the World in Union’.”

Read more: Beth Onesemo striving for gender equity in Samoan rugby >>