Saili ready to take flight on Black Ferns wing
Southland’s Alena Saili can’t wait to continue what has already been a remarkable first 18 months as a professional rugby player.
The former Academy Southland and Southland Girls’ High School product, will join the Black Ferns 15-aside team next week for the first time to prepare for a home-and-away series against Australia.
A member of the Black Ferns sevens wider squad, Saili is one of eight newcomers in the team, joining 17 players who were part of the World Cup-winning 2017 squad.
“(I’m) super excited, I can’t wait to go into camp next week and play with the girls who won the World Cup last year. It will be another experience and I’m really excited to take it.”
Saili has had a heady time since making her international debut for New Zealand straight out of high school in January 2017.
As a member of the wider sevens squad, she wasn’t initially picked for the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, but she was eventually called up to the Gold Coast after illness affected the camp.
The Black Ferns went onto win the gold medal in an extra-time thriller against Australia.
“It was pretty buzzy, I definitely wasn’t expecting that and I was so excited when I got the call up. It was an unreal experience. I was in the original squad of 14, but then one of our girls got the mumps, Ruby Tui, so I was lucky enough to get the call up and get that opportunity,” she said.
“The stadium was crazy and I was able to look around and see my family and friends, it was pretty cool. It was crazy, right down to extra time - for our girls to pull that out of the bag was amazing.”
Saili has been selected as a winger for coach Glenn Moore’s squad, which will play double-headers with the All Blacks’ Bledisloe Cup matches in Sydney and Auckland.
Saili credits her time with Academy Southland for helping prepare her for competing at international level.
While she has taken time to adjust to the expectations of professional rugby, she has been able to draw on the tools she developed in the Academy.
“Just how different the intensity is, coming straight out of school it’s way different, the girls just take things to a whole new level. The intensity, the motivation and the will to get better every day,” she said.
“What was cool for me was that I was in the Academy and the stuff that (they) gave me, like a nutritionist, the mind, work ethic, organisation, getting here on time, getting my license finally. It all paid off when I went up there, because I already knew some of the ways.”