Black Ferns prop Aleisha-Pearl Nelson believes Rugby World Cup 2021 provides an opportunity to repay her family for the “time, blood, sweat and tears” they have invested in her career.
Nelson, who came off the bench as New Zealand beat England in the RWC 2017 final, has been included in the Black Ferns squad for their tour of England and France.
The 31-year-old admits there is “a lot of hard work to go” before she can be sure of her place in the squad for their home Rugby World Cup.
But, with less than one year to go until RWC 2021, playing in 2022 kicks off, Nelson suggested that running out at the iconic Eden Park would not only be a special moment for her.
“It’s more about my family for me, they have done so much for me,” Nelson told World Rugby.
“In fact, lots of people have invested time, blood, sweat and tears into me to get me to where I am today.
“So, this would be like giving back to everyone that’s been there along the way. Hopefully seeing me play on home soil does that, hopefully I make them proud.”
Ready for the challenge
RWC 2021 will get under way on 8 October, 2022 as the hosts headline a thrilling day of action at Eden Park when they take on Australia.
Nelson is no stranger to the Eden Park turf, having played at the RWC 2021 final venue on several occasions for her Farah Palmer Cup side, Auckland Storm.
“It would mean so much to me to be involved in RWC 2021 with all the hard work, sacrifices, highs and lows,” she said.
“Running out on Eden Park for the opening [match] will be the moment of realisation that it’s been all worth it and that I’ve made it.
“Unfortunately for me, at the moment, I’m not there yet, it’s not a guarantee — so a lot of hard work to go. It’s a challenge I’ve accepted and am ready for.”
Nelson added: “Eden Park has some amazing history regardless of what team or code has been played there.
“It is always special to play in the black jersey, especially in a stadium that is the base of my representative team Auckland Storm.
“But, I think even more than that, it’s about the country, our whānau, friends and supporters finally getting to see the Black Ferns in a World Cup at home.”
“The ultimate goal is RWC 2021”
The Black Ferns will step up their preparations for RWC 2021 at the end of this month as they take on England in the first of two matches against the Red Roses, before heading to France to play Les Bleues on consecutive weekends.
Coach Glenn Moore has named a 34-player squad for the tour, which features 12 potential debutants, and Nelson says minds have been focused as the countdown to the home Rugby World Cup gathers pace.
“The ultimate goal is RWC 2021 so the excitement is definitely building in the Black Ferns camp for all of us, but especially all of the new faces coming into the environment,” she said.
“I think they are finding that it could be a reality and that really fuels them, but we have to first focus on our tour ahead.
“We have a lot of work to do on our quest to be in the best possible position come RWC.”
Nelson believes next year’s tournament can help catalyse the already impressive growth of women’s rugby in New Zealand.
“The women’s game is growing so fast but what better way to inspire all New Zealanders to play than to display world class rugby at home,” she said.
“It makes it tangible for everyone, it’s possible. I’m from Northland [and] I had to move to get opportunities in rugby, so I hope areas like home are able to provide opportunities for our people.
“Hopefully they realise rugby is a pathway.”