From strength to strength
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This time, she says, she’s not giving too much away about what the future holds. When she won the 2016 award (presented last year), she told Police News she was planning to retire after the crowning glory of her team’s Rugby World Cup win in Belfast.
Since then, however, Fiao’o and women’s rugby in general have gone on to more successes and accolades, at home and abroad. Instead of retiring, the 37-year-old is back on the field, still as captain, and looking forward to two tests against the Aussies this month and a series later in the year
In terms of what the future holds, she’s “playing it by ear this time”.
“I’m really here to help the girls coming through, to keep the standards up and give them guidance and the best way to do that is on the field.”
A lot of it is about mental preparation, she says, keeping calm on the field and off.
There could be few better role models for combining the pressures of high-level sport with a career as Fiao’o continues to progress in her job as a crime squad detective constable in Counties Manukau District.
Apart from the World Cup games last year, Fiao’o played with Auckland Club women’s champions Marist, played 100 games for the Auckland Storm and, as a Black Fern, became New Zealand’s most capped player, reaching 50 tests at the World Cup (now 52).
She was named the No 1 hooker in the Women’s World 15 rugby team and the Black Ferns were named the World Rugby Team of the Year at the World Awards. At home, the Ferns were named the ASB Team of the Year and Fiao’o was chosen as the New Zealand Herald New Zealander of the Year.
She’s the first to admit that it has been incredibly difficult to fit sporting commitments around work, but she’s managing it. “I’m really lucky that Counties Manukau Police are so supportive if I need time off.”
Physically, after the past year, she’s feeling “pretty much all broken”, she says, but there’s much to look forward to. Apart from the games this year, there is the start of contracts for women’s teams – a “massive” change for the sport, thanks in large part to the success of players such as Fiao’o.
“I’m very glad to have been part the group that paved the way for that,” she says. “I’m looking forward to reaping the rewards and, eventually, to professional women’s rugby.”
In the meantime, she says, it’s important that women players have time to put energy into their day jobs too and to make plans for life after rugby.
Her services to the sport were recognised this year when she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
There’s no doubt she’s driven by her twin passions of policing and rugby, but family is also at the core of everything she does.
Especially poignant for Fiao’o last year was having the Farah Palmer Player of the Year medal named after her. The Fiao’o Fa’amausili Medal will be presented annually and in 2017 it went to fellow Black Fern Hazel Tubic from the Counties Manukau Heat.
“The best thing is having my family’s name on an award,” she says.
Police Association president Chris Cahill presented Fiao’o with her Police Sportsperson of the Year award in Auckland last month.
Top: Fiao’o in her civvies at last month’s Black Ferns capping ceremony.
Bottom: Making mum proud. Nasareta Fa’amausili holds the No 15 jersey her daughter wore after Fiao’o was named the No 1 hooker in the Women’s World 15 rugby team last year.