The Kiwi talks Gareth Edwards, teaching and swapping forwards for backs

Black Ferns back Grace Brooker

Date of birth 20 June 1999 Born Oxford, NZ Position Centre/full-back Club Canterbury Country New Zealand

Are you from a rugby family?

I started at four years old at my local club, Oxford. All my family were involved – my older brother, my sister, my dad playing, my mum coaching. As soon as I put my boots on and ran onto the field I loved it. I told my grandma at four years old that I’d be an All Black! My family have always been right behind me.

Did you play any other sports?

Pretty much every sport under the sun! I was always outside because I grew up on a farm. Netball was my other main sport but nothing ever trumped rugby.

What positions have you played?

I grew up as a flanker but I started women’s rugby aged 14 and was very scrawny, so they put me out on the wing. Now it’s outside-centre or full-back. I loved always being involved as a seven but I won’t go back; I really enjoy the backs.

Who was your childhood rugby hero?

Weirdly, Gareth Edwards. I never played half-back but my dad showed me a try he scored (for the Barbarians) and gave me a book about him and I was hooked.

Who’s been the biggest influence on your career?

Probably my dad, David. He’s my biggest supporter and harshest critic. He’s helped me get to where I am.

What was it like making your Black Ferns debut last year?

It was honestly a dream come true. I can barely explain how much it meant to me. My mum, dad and brother came up to Auckland. My sister was watching from Poland – my cousins live-streamed it for her!

Your goals now?

To keep developing, to keep gaining knowledge of the game and to hopefully play more for the Black Ferns. The World Cup is definitely a goal but I’m taking it one year at a time.

What do you do away from rugby?

I’m studying to be a PE teacher at Canterbury University. Hopefully I can go down the teaching and farming route after rugby. I also do a bit of surfing and play golf. I’m not very good but it’s quite relaxing.

RW VERDICT: Brooker is highly rated by the New Zealand management team, captaining the Development XV and making her Test debut last year. She’s part of the Black Ferns contracted squad and should be involved in the 2021 World Cup.

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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