Risaleanna Pouri-Lane still can’t quite believe it. She’s a professional rugby player at 17.
Initially the Tasman halfback thought she was about to be dropped, until Black Ferns Sevens coach Allan Bunting called.
Pouri-Lane attended three overseas tournaments with the New Zealand development team last year, and caught wind of a meeting that her former team-mates were invited to attend after nationals.
“I was freaking out because all of our team-mates and friends from development were talking about this meeting but I had no idea. I hadn’t been told anything about a development meeting. I thought I had been dropped,” she said.
But then Bunting called and informed her that no, she had not been dropped, she had just been upgraded to the Black Ferns Sevens squad.
“I picked up the phone and Bunts offered me a fulltime contract,” she said.
“It was definitely a big goal of mine but I never expected to make it this year. When I got the call I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. I think I just kept saying thank you heaps of times.”
At 17, Pouri-Lane is the youngest Black Ferns Sevens player to earn a fulltime contract for 2018. That is quite the achievement, especially as she has only just left Motueka High School – the same school that produced Shannon Francois, David Havili and Simon Mannering – and her two previous jobs included working in a bakery and picking berries.
“I still pinch myself that every day I wake up and get to train and play alongside the top players in NZ and even the world,” Pouri-Lane said.
“I remember the first time I walked into the room and I was like ‘what the heck’. I was watching these girls on TV like a month ago and now I’m in the same room training with them. It’s pretty crazy.”
Having already represented New Zealand at judo and touch and competed nationally in sprinting and javelin, Pouri-Lane credits her well-rounded sporting background for developing her into the sevens player she is today.
Standing at just 1.64m tall, the judo has certainly helped with the physical aspect of the game.
“Just being more confident when it comes to tackling bigger players. When I used to play 15s as well you can’t hide,” she said.
“Especially because I’d be in the open grade so it does mean that you versus people that are bigger than you and heavier than you, and I think little things like that have helped prepare me for this moment.”
She will move to Hamilton in a few weeks to link up with her new team-mates as the Black Ferns prepare for the Commonwealth Games. Although she is in the frame for Commonwealth Games selection as well and will be doing everything she can to make the final cut, Pouri-Lane said just wants to learn as much as she can in her first year, in the hope she will eventually make her New Zealand debut.
“Hopefully with hard work I will debut at some time this year, but we’ll wait and see.
”I know these opportunities don’t come around often so I’m really grateful for it and I’m really thankful to everyone who helped me get here.”