Tui endured a difficult childhood, and had to contend with an alcoholic father, who split with her mother, and she was forced to live in a women’s refuge for a period. Here, on the eve of the Sydney Sevens, which begins on Friday, she talks exclusively to The New Zealand Times. She discusses a home tournament, her career path, the captivating new video, and her hopes for Olympic gold next year in Tokyo.
New Zealand Times: Congratulations on winning the Fast Four exhibition competition in Hamilton, alongside the men, last week. Is that the fist time the New Zealand Women’s side has played on home soil, and is a full HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series leg likely to happen soon?
Ruby Tui: Yeah, thanks a lot. It meant so much to be playing on home soil – it was something we have been dreaming about for so long. It was really, really cool to do the Haka and sing the national anthem with so many friends, family and fans. It was right up there as an experience with the Olympics and the World Cup.
The Fast Four tournament has helped put sevens on the map for New Zealand and has given young girls something to look forward to. It was a special moment as a player to see how many Black Ferns Sevens jerseys there were out in the crowd.
World Rugby came out and said that they are looking into [organising a New Zealand leg in the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series]. That dream looks like it will come true.
NZT: Let’s talk about the HSBC film that is being launched in time for the Sydney Sevens. What is that all about?
RT: These pieces are a more in-depth look at players and HSBC has really done a good thing in showing the world of sevens players. We travel the world all the time, but we’re still people and started somewhere. We have an amazing life, but it is important to remember where you come from and consider how far you have become. The film was humbling but really cool to be part of.
NZT: As a youngster you played a lot of sports – why did you opt for rugby sevens in 2012, and how much did the ambition to go for gold at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro influence that decision?
RT: The Olympics were a big motivation for me, and many players in New Zealand. It’s hard to describe. When it was announced that sevens would feature at the Olympics that was huge. It took the sport to a new level around the world. Here in New Zealand a lot of us weren’t sevens specialists, and we really wanted to stamp our mark at the Games.
A whole bunch of us took part in the Go4Gold campaign that was looking for players. I signed up online and about 70 other girls had the same idea. You didn’t have to know the ins and outs of rugby, but just had to have a good attitude and the willingness to put the hard work in. Sarah Hirini [née Goss] and Portia Woodman also came through that programme.
NZT: In Rio 2016, Australia defeated New Zealand 24-17 in the final to claim Olympic gold in the inaugural sevens completion at the Games. Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020, is there a sense of unfinished business?
RT: Yeah. It’s funny because we played at home for the first time last weekend, that was huge. We won back-to-back World Cups, that was huge. And as a player you’ve got to acknowledge those, you know, the congratulations that you’ve got to give your team. But I think everybody who was there in 2016 will tell you there is that little bit of taste in the back of our mouth still.
Ever since Rio we’ve gotten out a bit that much earlier in training, and that much quicker, because it is at the back of our minds. We can’t focus on (Tokyo 2020) yet because we still have to respect our opposition in the current series, but it’s something that we’re absolutely looking forward to and we will do everything we can to take our learnings onboard from last year.
Oliver Pickup is a London-based, multi-award-winning freelance journalist. He specialises in sport – particularly rugby union – as well as technology. He can be found on Twitter at @OliverPickup.