Forne leaps into the Black Ferns picture
Having grown up lugging fence posts and dragging tyres up hills on a Hawkes Bay farm, new Black Fern hooker Forne Burkin is made of stern stuff.
Forne Burkin has a striking tattoo on her calf that represents many things in her life.
The image of a deer fawn obviously symbolises her unique first name, and the family who gave it to her.
It also represents the rookie Black Fern’s love for hunting, which goes some way to explaining why she doesn’t mind the rough and tumble of the forward pack.
The 21-year-old hooker is now proving that hard work and purpose can take you from the farmlands of the Hawkes Bay to the international rugby stage.
Burkin was one of the 10 uncapped debutants named in the Black Ferns squad to play in the Women's Rugby Super Series in San Diego. She's been named in the team of 22 to play the United States on Wednesday, NZ time.
To the delight of her parents, Diane and Laurence, Burkin made the switch from netball to rugby at the age of 12.
When it came to training, she had plenty of space to roam - the family lived on Smedley Station, a 550ha agricultural training farm close to the foothills of the Ruahine Ranges in Central Hawkes Bay. Her dad made sure to utilise all of its resources.
“I remember when I first started playing, Dad had me carrying the posts up and down the fence-line. At one stage I had four tyres tied to my arms and legs and off I went crawling up the hill,” Burkin says.
“Mum often joined me out for a run up and down the hills and pushed me to get fit, especially in the off-season.”
Burkin’s christian name was also borne from that farm – inspired by one of the men who worked on it.
“One of the shepherds took a shine to me as a baby. His nickname was Stag,” she says. “My family are also a big hunting family and the name Forne took that into account.
“I often have to repeat my name two or three times when somebody first meets me.”
Burkin made her Farah Palmer Cup debut for Hawke’s Bay in 2017, playing at hooker in all six of the side's games.
She then moved to Christchurch last year after receiving a rugby scholarship to Lincoln University. She’s now in her second year studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce, specialising in agriculture. She’d eventually like to manage a sheep and beef farm.
In her first season with the Lincoln Ewes, Burkin made her debut for Canterbury in the opening game of the 2018 Farah Palmer Cup. She started all eight games for Canterbury – four at hooker, and four at loose forward – as the team went on to win the premiership title for the second year running.
Burkin also made an impression on the national selectors, earning a spot in the wider Black Ferns training squad at the end of last season.
After that first season in the south, she secured her spot as Canterbury’s top-ranked hooker, with one of the highest turnover rates in women’s rugby. With a relatively small frame, her low centre of gravity gives her an advantage when it comes to getting the ball back from the opposition.
“If my team doesn’t have the ball, we can’t get points on the board, so I’ll do my best to get it back,” Burkin says. “You have to win the race, so I’m always determined to beat the opposition to their own ball.”
She’s taken advice from different coaches, and watched players like All Black Ardie Savea who’ve mastered the skill. With a little trial and error, she says she’s found a way to turn over ball that best suits her.
Burkin is “incredibly grateful” for what she’s learned so far through rugby - not only on the field but off it too - and she hopes to one day give back to the game and to those who helped her along the way.
“I look up to a man named Arthur Brown who was one of my first rugby coaches in high school,” says Burkin, who went to Napier Girls. “He had all the time in the world for the team and has supported not only women's rugby but men’s, high school and junior rugby in a big way.
“There’s now an Arthur Brown junior rugby development academy, that helps develop young player’s basic skills and confidence back home in the Hawkes Bay. I hope to one day help out in the academy to say thank you for all the support Arthur has given me.”
To keep her from missing home and family, she stays busy with study, friends and training. She’s motivated, she says, by her “why”.
“My ‘why’ is to finish off what I started when I was 12 years old. I see the first game I played as where my rugby started and, whenever I do something, I give it my all,” she says.
“So I’m going to keep pushing to reach the end goal of wearing the black jersey. I’m also driven by the opportunity to carry and build on the legacy that previous Black Ferns have created before us, and to be a part of that.”
With her high work rate and determination, it’s no wonder she’s been identified by the Black Ferns and has secured a spot in their 35-strong squad playing in San Diego. The Black Ferns won their opening match against Canada, 35-20, on Saturday, and will now play the USA, France and England.
When she received the call that she had made the touring squad she was “a ball of nerves”.
“It’s been such an awesome opportunity to attend the camps. I’m forever taking away new learnings, and being surrounded by high performing athletes pushes you to work harder, run faster and improve your game. It’s a really supportive and fun environment to be part of,” she says.
Burkin’s number one goal this year to debut for the Black Ferns looks like it is about to be realised.