Brazier aims to be Black Ferns 7s first female coach
Kelly Brazier wants to keep making history once she finishes a stellar playing career - and become the first woman to coach the Black Ferns Sevens.
“That would be awesome,” she says in a rare break from under-playing her achievements.
A stalwart of the international rugby scene since her debut for the Black Ferns in 2009, Brazier has a career littered with success - four World Cup victories and an Olympic silver medal.
Those who know her well have no doubt that if she sets herself a goal of coaching either the national sevens or 15s team, it will happen.
“I’d be more surprised if it didn’t happen,” says Black Ferns Sevens assistant coach Cory Sweeney, who works closely with Brazier on the team’s attack.
“Out of all the players I’ve coached, she is the one who’s stood out as having an exceptional knowledge of the game and an ability to use that on the field. She feels what the players feel, and understands what we want to achieve as coaches.
“She’s almost magical in how she delivers that message.”
Even though Brazier, 29, has been on the side-line so far this year, nursing a torn calf, she has still played a critical part in the Black Ferns' victories at all three tournaments in the World Rugby Sevens Series.
She provides a conduit between the coaches and the players, Sweeney explains. When she’s fit, that link is even more valuable, as Brazier has a cool head under pressure and in fatigue.
“She is driven as a player, driven as a leader and she has a deep understanding as a coach,” Sweeney says.
“So I wouldn’t be surprised at all if she becomes the first female to coach the Black Ferns.” (Brazier would be the first woman to coach the sevens, but the 15s had a female coach, Vicky Dombroski, in the early 1990s).
Brazier has never been one to pump up her own tyres.
When quizzed about her incredible try that clinched gold for New Zealand at last year’s Commonwealth Games, she talks instead about the team and what they had endured just to make the final.
Brazier is a try-scoring machine for the Black Ferns but still flies under the radar, with the likes of Michaela Blyde and Portia Woodman better known outside the team.
She seems content with that, but when she talks about a potential career as coach, she breaks cover and admits coaching the Black Ferns - 15s or sevens - would be a dream come true.
“I don’t want to be given the job because I’m a female,” she says. “I’d want to get it because I’ve worked for it and I deserve it."
It’s an ambition she has had more time to work toward this year than she would’ve liked.
During a holiday run on the morning of New Year’s Eve, she felt her calf muscle tighten up. She didn't think it was a major issue, but scans showed a 17cm tear that has side-lined her ever since.
She missed the official sevens tournament in Sydney, the unofficial tournament in Hamilton, and won't be at this week’s return to the World Series in Japan.
She’s due to play in Canada next month - provided the final, almost agonising, stages of her rehab go okay.
It will be a welcome return, as the Black Ferns have flown to Japan without several key players, including Gayle Broughton, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Blyde and Woodman (who is out for the year with an achilles injury).
It’s fair to say Brazier has been a painful patient.
“The physio has copped a fair bit from me,” she admits. “I’ve really wanted to get back on the field.”
The last few weeks have been the hardest, as she’s felt ready to play but has been held back so the loading on her injured calf can be slowly and carefully increased.
Getting married, to Tahlia Tahau, on January 12 was a welcome interruption to the tedium of being injured,. So too a two week stint coaching boys and girls in Japan.
Brazier is also helping coach the Bay of Plenty Under 18 XV girls team.
In a rugby career that saw her debut for the Black Ferns 15s in 2009 and sevens in 2013, Brazier has only ever been coached by men.
It’s not something that’s bothered her as she enjoys the upfront, direct delivery male coaches employ.
Coaching women is very different to coaching men, and that women coaching women can be more difficult, because of the different ways the two sexes communicate, she believes.
“Males can be told things straight up. It’s harder being so harsh with young females because women take things differently,” she says.
“If you say [a blunt message] to a girl, she could go into her shell. Males go out and try to prove you wrong.”
It is, she says, just a different type of confidence for the respective sexes.
Brazier is far from finished as a player. Having achieved the rare double-double of two World Cups in both 15s and in sevens, she now has her eye on going one better than the silver New Zealand won at the Rio Olympics. She wants gold in Tokyo 2020.
Then she will turn her attention again to 15s and the World Cup in New Zealand in 2021.
And then, if the time is right, she might hang up the boots and reach for the coach’s clipboard.
* The original version of this story has been edited, since it was clarified that Vicky Dombroski was the first woman to coach the Black Ferns 15s side.
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