Sarah Goss and Amy Cokayne used to play rugby together for Fielding High School and face each other for World Cup. RW speaks to their former coach, who hails from Cardiff
“Hold on, I’m just watching a re-run of the All Blacks semi-final. That was a walloping, wasn’t it? Portia Woodman is outstanding, a real specimen. She wouldn’t look out of place in the Bledisloe this weekend!”
I’m speaking to Rob Jones, Head of PE at Feilding High School, two hours North of Wellington, on New Zealand’s North Island.
After 13 years spent 12,000 miles away from home in the small village of Creigiau, where he grew up playing rugby at Pontyclun RFC, Jones’ vowels are a mix of South Walian and North Island but there’s no mistaking the pride in his voice when talking about two former pupils, Sarah Goss and Amy Cokayne, who are set to go toe-to-toe in the Women’s World Cup final on Saturday evening.
Jones, a rugby-mad Welshman, ended up on the other side of the world after being diagnosed with testicular cancer while teaching in the Scilly Isles, which led to him taking a decision that would change his life. “I decided I wanted to see the world. My friends who had been travelling recommended New Zealand, so I sent off 28 job applications and the only people to get back to me were Feilding High School. I headed over there without a clue what to expect. That was in 2004!”
Feilding High school has a long-list of former All Blacks including World Cup winners Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith, while scorer of the first try in the Lions Series Codie Taylor, is another notable alumni.
None however, has impressed Jones more than Goss, the fearless Black Ferns openside who came through a few years ahead of England’s rumbustious, and equally impressive hooker, Amy Cokayne.
Speaking of Goss, Jones said she started rugby, as a way keeping fit for hockey in her early teens. “In Year 9, she rocked up an asked if she could play rugby for a bit of extra fitness, so I started her on the wing, so she could pick up the game and within years, she was playing at 10 for the school.”
What stood out most to her coach was her relentless work ethic. “Sarah’s a farm-girl and one of the hardest workers you’ll ever meet. She has a great skill-set and while she may not have the wheels of Portia Woodman, she’s integral to the Black Ferns.”
As for Cokayne, three years Goss’ junior, she came to Jones’ attention at a similar age, when her father Ian, was posted in New Zealand with the RAF. Her talent and mental resolve soon became apparent. “Amy had played a lot more rugby than Sarah. She comes from a big military family and had trials with Aston Villa – she’s a brilliant goalkeeper. Sport courses through her veins and she was the North Island record javelin holder. As a player, she’s very physical, very dominant and totally fearless. She’s bit like Jamie George in a way. She has really good skills and a real a turn of pace. I’d love to see her in Sevens, because she’s certainly good enough.”
Cokayne’s promise was soon recognized as she progressed from provincial rugby with Manawatu to a Black Fern triallist where for the first time in her career she found her progress stalled, in large part, due to her age, 16 and the fact that captain and World Cup winner Fiao’o Faamausili, was filling the Black Fern No 2 shirt. “The coaches didn’t give her the time of day and I knew about Amy’s English roots, so I said to her, where’s your heart, who would you like to play for?” She said, “I’m English, I want to play for England but it’s not going to happen.” I told her not to give up.
Jones phoned the RFU and tracked down Gary Street, the former England head coach. “I told him I had a Black Fern triallist, who wanted to play for England. I knew the Red Roses were coming over to play the Black Ferns in the summer of 2013 and we agreed to meet at a Starbucks in Auckland. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Jones says both girls, who took on leadership roles and Feilding High School, are role models for the next generation. “Sarah is fantastic with the younger kids. She always gives time to the school at the shortest notice. Nothing is ever a problem. She takes coaching sessions because she’s desperate to see the growth of women’s rugby. I can’t speak highly enough of her. Amy is of the same mould, and only too happy to help out.”
The staff at the school have erected a good luck message to the girls, and are thrilled that two of their former pupils are appearing in a World Cup final, with another member of staff also involved. “Their assistant coach, Wesley Clark, is our coaching coordinator at school. He’s had a massive input on both of them, too.”
A keen advocate of the women’s game, Jones says it’s a real fillip that the final is on prime time TV in the UK. “We still have a long way to go to but the more publicity we have the better. Personally, I’d like to see it aligned with the men’s World Cup, as a curtain raiser to the World Cup final – how good would that be?”
Of the upcoming final, Jones says there will be plenty of verbals before the final. “Gossy and Amy are friends. They played together in school and at Manawatu in Sevens and fifteens. There will be heaps of banter and they’ll be having a crack at each other on the field but whoever wins, I’m sure they’ll be sharing a beer together afterwards, which is how it should be.”
So who will the Welshman be backing? “I want England to have a good game but with my wife and four daughter’s Kiwis, I’d better play safe and say New Zealand.”