“All the girls knew what I was getting in for and who I was up against in my first game but I had no idea and they didn’t want to scare me off,” says Sophie Devine on her debut rugby match against Oriental-Rongotai and marking Black Ferns wing Ayesha Leti-l’iga.
“They didn’t tell me until after the game, that must have been why she ran rings around me!”
Sophie’s Petone Ponies side lost that season opener 24-46 and Leti-l’iga scored five tries. But that is not unusual, she also scored five tries in her second match of the season against Paremata-Plimmerton and has scored 102 tries in 47 club rugby matches for Ories.
“That was my first full game of rugby – it was great fun and I really enjoyed the experience, “ said Sophie who is adept at handling the world’s best cricketers in a career so far spanning almost 200 combined ODI/Twenty20 internationals for the White Ferns.
“That is the great thing about club rugby, you get people like me who have never played the game before and Black Ferns playing together, which is awesome exposure.”
The current White Ferns vice-captain, who made her debut for the Wellington Blaze aged 14 out of Tawa College over a decade and a half ago, played the first three games for Petone in April before putting her fledgling rugby career on temporary hold by heading over to India to play cricket.
“I have just played in a Twenty20 tournament played over 10-12 days in Jaipur. I played in the winning side as well, so that was nice. Hopefully in the next couple of years there will be a full Women’s IPL, which will be great for the game.”
She returned last week but had a break from rugby this past weekend to get over jet leg and a couple of niggles, but is keen to keep playing for Petone over the next several weeks.
Her next cricket commitment is the English Women’s Twenty competition playing for the Leicester Lightning, before re-joining the Wellington Blaze and the Adelaide Strikers for her fifth season in the Women’s Big Bash in Australia, then for New Zealand again in their next international series in January.
As well as cricket, Devine has a background in hockey and played 36 hockey internationals for the Black Sticks between 2009-12, before concentrating on cricket.
Which leads us to the obvious question for this story – what is Sophie doing playing club rugby for Petone?
“I have always wanted to try my hand at rugby, but have never really had the opportunity to do so playing cricket and hockey growing up and with my schedule playing cricket over the past few years.
“I was really fortunate to bump into the right people. I was at a function with Anna Darling, who works for the NZRU [and plays for Marist St Pat’s]. She pointed me in the direction of Petone.
“I touched base with coach James [James Te Iwimate] and said to him I am really keen to play, but I have got no background – but they were fantastic and there is a great group of girls that have been really supportive and open in helping me learn.
“I have really loved it, it has been a different sort of challenge for me.”
Sophie also says that her background playing team sports for so long has made her transition into rugby smoother.
She is not the only cricketer playing rugby in Wellington. Former White Fern teammate Thamsyn Newton has also returned from Christchurch to start playing for the Old Boys University Impalas.
“She has a background in touch rugby and playing multiple sports and is a great athlete so it is no surprise to me that she is doing really well in club rugby.”
Newton has played three matches for the Impalas and in her second outing scored 46 points against Poneke, made up of six tries and eight conversions.
Rebecca Burns is another Wellington Blaze cricketer who has played rugby and played some games for the Pride.
“Kate Ebrahim down in Christchurch played some Farah Palmer Cup rugby for Canterbury and also for Taranaki, while Kendra Cocksedge also played cricket in the past.”
This week Petone plays Newton’s Old Boys Impalas in their final contest of the first round Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy. Petone are guaranteed to finish third and play in the first Division for the second half of the season, while OBU are chasing vital points to join them in the Tia Paasi Trophy ahead of either MSP or HOBM.