Women’s rugby superstar Ruby Tui is back in black and ready to kick off WXV 1, starting this weekend in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Black Ferns winger says that 2023 has “been a long year and a long journey” after taking a break from the game and spending time in the USA.
“The girls have been great kaitiaki (guardians) of the jersey. Coming back, it doesn’t just feel like I’ve made the team, it’s been really, really hard mahi (work). It’s an absolute honour to be back,” she said at the New Zealand team’s media conference before their opening match against France this Saturday.
Tui is wary of the sort of attitude that France will bring in New Zealand’s opening fixture, the first time the teams have met since their epic Rugby World Cup 2021 semi-final, drawing from her own long career in both sevens and 15s.
“I’ve been on the end of close losses all my life, and I know it takes years to get that taste out of your mouth,” she said.
“France have a new captain, they have a new identity so they’re definitely here to let us know just how close that loss was.”
The new WXV format is something Tui describes as “super exciting”. “We all get to play each other, we involve the Six Nations," she said.
"We’ve learned from the men’s game... we’ve gone ‘you know what, we’re gonna do it now, we’re gonna set it right here’.
“So now hopefully people will get to know the competition, get to know the players and realise it’s not just World Cup anymore. It’s every year, we’re playing the best in the world. It’s a super exciting competition.”
For now, Tui’s transition back into the Black Ferns has involved serious training, alongside a new crop of wingers like Katelyn Vahaakolo.
The Blues flier was in devastating form during Super Rugby Aupiki and made her test debut earlier this season against Australia.
Although, her form on the field isn’t the only thing that Tui has to compete with.
Tui said: “KV [Vahaakolo] has been trying to take the title of funniest in the team, so every position is hard to get into now.”
For now though, Tui remains a household name in her native country and despite her break is very much the face of women’s rugby. It’s a role she is very aware of.
“Rugby gives us so much. I always buzz out, literally every item of clothing I have is from rugby, every meal we’re eating is from rugby,” Tui said.
“All those moments when you’re like ‘holy heck, this is my life’ – that’s from rugby. It’s given so much to all of us, now I’ve earned the opportunity to give back to it.”