There’s a saying in top-tier rugby when it comes to training: no days off. But eight weeks ago former Black Ferns captain Eloise Blackwell had to make an exception.
The 31-year-old received the news no player wants to hear, for the first time in 12 years, she’d been dropped from the squad.
“That was a pretty tough day,” Blackwell told 1News in her first interview since missing selection.
“It’s a hard to explain the feeling. You can always expect that conversation… Because you never expect to be handed a jersey [but] I think you can’t really prepare yourself to hear that.”
The news came at the worst possible time.
The new coaching regime had just started following Glenn Moore’s resignation in the wake of a scathing review into the team environment.
It was also just several months from many of the players’ dream, a home Rugby World Cup.
Blackwell, New Zealand’s fifth most capped Black Fern, says she was lucky to have good people around her, including Auckland Storm assistant coach Anna Richards, who was in the room when she was told.
“Players go through different emotions,” Richards, a four-time World Cup winner said.
“Some people get angry, some people get sad.
“She didn’t enjoy it, nobody does, but I thought she did really well… She said 'I just want to be salty for a couple of days Anna' and I was like 'that’s fine, be salty, but then let’s work' and she’s been awesome.”
Blackwell said she got some “honest truths” in the meeting, and that she’s dedicated her time since to getting back to her best.
“I’m not bitter about it, it’s been good for me.”
She said one of the good things to come out of it has been a focus on club footy, and that being away has made her miss the black jersey even more.
With that in mind, she’s also been proactive about getting in front of the coaches, sending them clips of her club highlights during the build up to the recent Pacific Four tournament.
She’ll get the opportunity to play in front of them again at Friday’s trial match, in which 46 players have been split into two teams to face off in front of the Black Ferns coaches.
“Pretty much all or nothing come Friday," she said.
“It’s not the last opportunity for me, but it’s the only opportunity I see right now.
“I’m just going to head out onto that field and put my best foot forward, put both hands up and say 'pick me.'”