Eloise Blackwell – Cool head among Youth
Auckland contributed a handful of players to the Black Ferns who won the Pac4 series in Ottawa, Canada recently.
Back home, the Farah Palmer Cup presented by Bunnings Warehouse kicked off and the Storm, without that considerable ammunition, went within a whisker of losing both their opening games, an outcome that could have entirely derailed their semi-final prospects.
Following a 32-31 defeat to Hawke's Bay in the opening round Auckland was down two players and trailing 15-10 to Wellington at the Hutt Rec with ten minutes to play.
Gillian Fa’aumu and Eloise Blackwell were both in the sin bin as the Pride pressed hard for their first victory over Auckland since 2006. With 75 games for Auckland and 46 Tests for the Black Ferns, Blackwell was in the worst possible place for Auckland.
"The yellow card was obviously subjective," Blackwell laughed.
"I felt a little hard done by. Milly Mackey might have milked it but that's rugby. There's no point living in the past. You've got to get on with the next job."
When Blackwell returned to the field it was still 15-10 to Wellington but Auckland was hot on the attack with one final play.
"We got a penalty and some of the girls wanted to tap but I knew we were strong in the set piece, so I ordered a scrum," Blackwell said.
"We hit the blindside, but it was tough. The weather played a huge part in that game. It was wet and windy, everything was hard-earned.
"Fortunately, we stuck to our shape and did our jobs. It was great to score a try, but Sophie Fisher really won the game with her conversion. She was cool, calm, and collected."
Auckland prevailed 17-15 with Fisher atoning for a miss in similar circumstances a week earlier.
"I was so proud of the girls. Their effort to hang in while we were down to 13 was awesome. There were some key moments before the last try like the break by Princes Elliott and the turnover by Danny-Lee Fesolai. It was a real collective effort," Blackwell said.
During the week Blackwell is a schoolteacher at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School. With the youth of the Auckland side, she admits she sometimes feels like a schoolteacher at training but conceded the “banter” and “enthusiasm” was infectious.
Black Ferns lock Maia Roos is likely to partner Blackwell in the second row when Auckland hosts Bay of Plenty at Colin Maiden Park on Saturday. Roos became the youngest-ever Black Ferns captain, aged 21 when she led New Zealand to a 39-17 win over the USA on July 15.
“Maia has been a quiet and humble achiever since she became a part of the Storm. You could see straight away she had what it takes for the next level and her appointment as captain wasn’t a surprise to me and a very proud moment for her school, club, and family,” Blackwell said.
“Having the Black Ferns back this week has lifted the intensity. It’s great for the girls to rub shoulders with some of the best in the world.”
“Bay of Plenty will be a tough game. We expect them to be particularly strong at the set piece. Their scrum has been going well this season and their proficient in the lineouts.
“I watched Hawke’s Bay play Waikato and was really impressed with Hawke’s Bay again. The way Krysten Cottrell uses her boot to dictate territory is really effective. Hawke’s Bay clearly has that underdog spirit about them, and I think they’ll stay hard to beat like everyone else in FPC.”
Blackwell won a World Cup with the Black Ferns in 2017 but was almost equally elated when her club Ponsonby upset previously unbeaten College Rifles to win the Coleman Shield this year. It was often a struggle for Ponsonby to assemble numbers and due to flooding in Auckland, they had no permanent home ground but pulled through anyway.