It’s Saturday afternoon and San Francisco’s Union Square is a crosscurrent of tourists from every corner of the world. A Falun Gong parade marches down Post Street. Francophiles hustle to Bastille Day revelries on Belden Place. And on the second floor of Apple Union Square, members of the Black Ferns and All Blacks 7s teams sit on either side of Jack Clark to talk music’s influence on mentality, performance and the Rugby World Cup Sevens (RWC 7s).
Olympic silver medalists Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui and Tyla Nathan-Wong represented the Black Ferns, also the defending RWC 7s champion, and the All Blacks sent Tim Mikkelson, Kurt Baker and Regan Ware. The players talked about the importance of music, especially during a 7s tournament, where six games are spread across two days. There’s a lot of ramping up, calming down, regrouping, and music can usher that process along.
But one can’t talk music and not expect a little karaoke, and the Black Ferns were up for it. Clark explained the concept of baseball players’ “walk on” songs that play while approaching the plate, and asked each player to nominate a song that would be played if they were called off the bench to make an impact. The Black Ferns belted a few lines from their choices – the All Blacks demurred – and Nathan-Wong got a little back-up as she recited Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.”
“Probably a little too comfortable,” Tui laughed about her and her teammates’ ease with microphone.
But the crowd was happy the Black Ferns indulged, as it was a welcomed glimpse into their off-field personalities. They talked about the trio of songs they play en route to the game pitch, respect for the DJ, and the similarities between athletes and musicians and their performances.
“We love them,” Tui said of community events. “We’re very blessed to have jobs where we can go out and meet people who love rugby. These guys over here in San Francisco [points to a couple of attendees] they have on a Crusaders top from Christchurch, where I’m from, and [points to another attendee] the Maori All Black top. It’s awesome and really cool and special. Rugby is a pretty tight-knit community so when we go to these events, people come out, and it means so much, especially coming from a country that loves rugby.”
The appreciation was mutual, as the Black Ferns laughed and sang and delivered thoughtful answers to thoughtful questions.
“Especially coming from the women’s game – I can’t speak on behalf of the boys – but we really have to push our profile and get the most of what we can, not just for us but for girls growing up in New Zealand,” Tui said. “When we first started – me and Tyla – this wasn’t full-time, it wasn’t professional, but now it is, since 2015. So we’re very thankful for that and we’re going to push our profile as much as we can, so the young girls back home and all over the world can have a good time playing rugby.”
Obviously another RWC 7s trophy will help the cause, and that’s a fact that is never far from Tui and teammates’ minds. The New Zealand 7s teams have several public obligations worked into their training schedule, and it’s a skill to transition between them.
“As you get more comfortable as a professional rugby player you learn to mentally – [the on-pitch goal] is always there, you’re always attached to it – be able to mentally switch off, switch on, and music actually helps a lot with that, too,” Tui said of balancing duties. “But it’s always at the back of your mind – I get that asked a lot. I can’t relax fully until we get the trophy or until that final whistle, but I can definitely learn to appreciate.”