The Rugby World Cup Sevens has to appear on the 2018-19 Top 10 Moments. It could do so as a World Rugby event on American soil, or as a recap of the Eagles’ near-podium finish, or even as a review of San Francisco as a host city. TRB is based in Oakland, Calif., and had a front-row seat as the Bay Area ramped up the visibility for the event. There was one particular highlight that was unique for me as a fan and reporter, and one that would endear any audience, rugby-aligned or not, to the sport.
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Many teams arrived in the Bay Area, Santa Cruz, or in Fiji’s case, Colorado a week-plus in advance of the July tournament. Teams acclimated to the time change and environment, and established a nice rhythm to take them through the tournament. The USA didn’t have to make those same adjustments and stayed in San Diego until days before kickoff. In between those training and team sessions, a handful of countries held fan events, but they were hardly publicized – except New Zealand.
On the Saturday before the tournament, both the men’s and women’s teams appeared at Apple Union Square for a Q&A with Cal men’s head coach Jack Clark. The subject was the role of music in sport and competition, and the teams featured three players from each team.
The Black Ferns sent Ruby Tui, Gayle Broughton and Tyla Nathan-Wong, and they stole the show. All mic-ed up the three sang their pump-up songs (while their male counterparts demurred), and drew shoppers to the top floor of the beautiful Apple store overlooking Union Square. They were enthusiastic professionals, engaging and eloquent in their responses, and charming in how they interacted with each other, giving onlookers a glimpse into the friendships that bind a championship team.
There was nothing tired or rehearsed about the Black Ferns’ appearance at the Apple store, and that’s not easy. Players want to be on the pitch, but as Tui explained, the team takes its opportunities to promote its brand. Yes, the Black Ferns were in San Francisco to win a Rugby World Cup 7s title – and they did – but the trip was also a chance for a new audience, new sponsors, new fans to learn about New Zealand 7s. The film crew followed the team to the USA Rugby Youth Flag Festival, coffee company, bar/event space and AT&T Park.
Organizing it all was media advisor Libby Boggs, who did an excellent job shaking hands with local media. After a cheerful introduction at Apple, Boggs forwarded the teams’ full schedule and offered to arrange interviews in the lobby of their hotel throughout the week. During the tournament itself, Boggs made sure players were making the rounds in the media pit so journalists could ask their own questions and bank unique interactions. Again, the Black Ferns were remarkably composed and insightful after each match, which encourages more coverage.
New Zealand is the consummate professional. Everyone can attest to the Black Ferns’ on-field standard, but the experience off the pitch is just as impressive.