Rugby

Tiny fan gives Brazier new zest for rugby

With the Black Ferns Sevens back in camp after lockdown, long-time star Kelly Brazier returns as a new mum, with a new rugby plan. 

Kelly Brazier is used to having crowds cheer her on in stadiums around the world.

But with countries shutting down, sport being cancelled and no team-mates in sight, the Black Ferns Sevens stalwart found joy in the cheers from a new side-line supporter during lockdown - her three-month-old son, Oakley.

Amid the chaos, Brazier and her wife, Tahlia, would pack up Oakley in the front pack or pram and make their way down to the local field in Papamoa around 9am for some fresh air and, in Brazier’s case, some serious fitness.

The family outing was a welcome one for the newlyweds.

“It’s been cool, because Tahlia gets the stopwatch out to time me and they cheer me on,” says Brazier. “Having them there a couple of times a week to help out, even with those small things, makes a massive difference to me.”

A difference that kept Brazier motivated during the daily changes around the globe, and the nappy changes in their little bubble.

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The Black Ferns sevens team headed back to their Mount Maunganui base this week after two months in lockdown.

“It’s just to connect with the group and have meetings around our individual plans for the off-season and the Olympics,” says Brazier. “But it’s quite scary in a way, because we then break again and go on leave for another six to eight weeks.”

Knowing the sevens season is over - before it really began - is difficult. But not knowing a lot about the future impacts of Covid-19 is harder.

Brazier understands it was necessary to postpone the Tokyo Olympics to 2021, but says it was still tough to take.

“I was pretty gutted when it got postponed,” she says. “It’s something we’ve worked so hard for. It's not taken away, but everything has changed because of it, so that’s what I was gutted about.”

Kelly Brazier with her baby son, Oakley. Photo: supplied. 

The 30-year-old says a good thing to come out of the uncontrollable events of the last few months has been the extra rehab time some of the injured players have had. And it's also been a good time to reflect.

“The girls will be firing when we come back and I’ve just got to look at the positives,” she says. “It's another year to be better than what I would’ve been, so I’m just looking forward to taking it day by day now.”

The Olympics now fall in the same year as the 2021 Rugby World Cup, to be played in New Zealand.

Having won World Cup titles in both rugby sevens and the 15s game, will Brazier want to put on the black jersey in both major events next year?

“If it was up to me, yes, but I think that’s something the rugby union and the coaches will have to discuss. So at the end of the day, we’ve just got to wait to see what they say,” says Brazier, who has been involved with the sevens programme since its inception and was part of the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medal team.

Her priority is the Olympics, but Brazier would love to be a part of both teams. If it’s possible, she says, she will put her hand up and her best foot forward for both campaigns.

The feat will mean an eight-week turnaround in between events and a considerable amount of time away from the Black Ferns World Cup build-up.

But it doesn’t stop there. Brazier has plans to be part of another big year for the code in 2022 – both the Sevens World Cup in Cape Town and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games will take place in two years’ time.

“Again, I would like to be involved in both of those. But at this stage, just getting through the next year and then making sure we have a break to re-energize and relax with the family would be good, because the body is getting a bit older, so I’ve got to be smarter these days,” Brazier laughs.

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The veteran rugby star recently joined the ‘30’s club’, but cheekily points out she is not the oldest in the Black Ferns Sevens team. Funnily, the ‘senior’ members of the sevens squad are also the members of the exclusive ‘sevens mother’s club’. Brazier joins long standing team-mates Niall Williams and Kayla Ahki in both groups.

Juggling mother and training life hasn’t been too bad now there’s a more regular routine around Oakley.

In the first couple of weeks, the sleepless nights were difficult for Brazier, and training times could fluctuate from early morning to evening sessions.

Brazier admits the uncertainty was something to get used to, but once Oakley started sleeping through the night at around five weeks old, things have been much better.

“It has been challenging, but he’s getting on top of a routine, and extending our bubble to Tahlia’s mum has been nice,” she says.

Becoming parents for the first time in lockdown, during a global pandemic, with no back-up support meant the couple learned early on that their parenting styles complimented each other.

“I reckon we’re both quite different [in parenting styles] and the people who know us will see it’s quite similar to our personalities,” says Brazier.

“I’m very laid back and chill, an ‘oh he’s all right, just go with the flow’ kind of person. Whereas Tahlia is the parent who wants the best so is looking at Dr Google and everything because she's always going that extra mile to make sure he's okay.”

Two friends who will know that philosophy well are some of the faces Brazier was most looking forward to catching up with - her sevens team-mates Sarah Hirini and Portia Woodman.

“They were both bridesmaids at our wedding and they both love kids,” she says. “And prior to the lockdown, they were around here – Gossy [Hirini] probably every day and Portia every second day - so I’m quite excited for them to see how much Oakley has grown.”

Brazier says Oakley is a happy guy who is starting to show a bit of his own personality.

“He’s trying to copy the silly faces we make and laughing and that sort of thing now, so that definitely gets me up every day,” she says.

“I’m not really a morning person, but I’m just sitting there at the side of the bed waiting for him to wake up at 7am. We can't imagine not having him.”

Brazier would’ve been away from her family three times playing on the World Sevens circuit by now, but instead she’s making the most of her time at home.

And when the time comes, her new number one supporter will be cheering on his mum in a stadium from the comfort of his front pack.

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