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Ruby Tui

Ruby Tui burst onto the world stage at the 2012 Oceania Women’s Rugby Sevens Championship in Fiji. Selected through the high-performance programme Go 4 Gold, she’d only been playing rugby for two years, but Ruby was determined to succeed.

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“Our head coach showed real belief in me by contracting me as an injured player. This was a huge moment for me.”

The game of Rugby Sevens has been around since 1883. Played on the same size field as rugby, it’s a shortened version of the fifteen-a-side game, with seven players in each team. Games are run in two halves of seven minutes, with a two-minute break in the middle. The scoring system is the same as rugby, with five points for a try, three points for a penalty or drop goal, and two points for a post-try conversion. Tournaments are run like big parties, with spectators dressing up in fancy dress, and entertainment provided between matches.

Born in Wellington in 1991, Ruby’s mother Marion has Scottish and Irish ancestry, and her father Kovati’s family came to New Zealand from Sāmoa. Ruby’s early years weren’t easy, but she grew up surrounded by a loving extended family who helped her understand different aspects of her heritage. Her Sāmoan aiga (family) introduced her to Sāmoan culture, the wider community in Wellington, and church life. Her Pākehā family arrived on the West Coast in 1879, buying land at Punakaiki that is still in family hands. Ruby says Aotearoa New Zealand “… was the promised land to both sides of my family”.

Aged 18, Ruby moved from Greymouth to Christchurch to study a Media and Communications degree at the University of Canterbury. This fortuitous decision introduced her to women’s rugby. Ruby enjoyed the camaraderie and the sense of community that rugby offered. She joined the University Rugby Football Club in March 2010 and slotted into position as a prop.

Surrounded by Black Ferns players, and coached by Ernie Goodhue, who had coached Sevens and Fifteens rugby for both men and women, Ruby thrived. She listened to feedback and trained hard to improve her skills. The team won the Canterbury Women’s Rugby Championships that year, with Ruby awarded the trophy for Best First Year player.

In 2011, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to include Sevens rugby at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and the officially sanctioned World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series kicked off in December 2012 with spectacular results. The Black Ferns Sevens won the first series.

But Ruby wasn’t selected for the next two Sevens World Tournaments. She finally got the call up for the March 2013 Tournament in Guangzhou, China, and scored a crucial try in the final game against England, winning 19–5.

In 2013, Ruby thought her career was over at just 21 when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) playing against China in Amsterdam. The injury meant she could barely stand and was flown home to have her ACL reconstructed. While recovering she completed a Certificate in Sport and Fitness at Ara Institute of Canterbury, graduating top of her class. Ruby knew that the life of a top sportsperson was short, and she wanted to give herself options when her playing days were over. She was also eyeing up sports commentating.

It took Ruby 16 months to recover, and she missed the entire 2013–14 World Series. In January 2014, she signed a Sevens contract with New Zealand Rugby as a ‘tier two’ player for the princely sum of $25,000 per annum.

“Our head coach showed real belief in me by contracting me as an injured player. This was a huge moment for me,” she says.

Ruby returned to the field in September 2014 at the Oceania Championships in Noosa, Australia, and then made the squad for Dubai in the 2014–15 World Series.

Since 2011, the Black Ferns Sevens team’s focus was winning a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but leading up to that year they began to lose tournaments and it became clear that the team dynamic was dysfunctional. In the end, they took home the silver medal, beaten 24–17 by Australia. In 2017, Ruby was named New Zealand Women’s Sevens Player of the Year.

In April 2018, Ruby was set to play in the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast, Australia, but came down with a nasty case of mumps and had to be hospitalised. She had to fly home and watch the game on television. By June, she was back in the team, and they won the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco, beating France 29–0. Ruby was named World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2019.

Alongside teammate Honey Hireme-Smiler, Ruby was contracted to SKY Sport to commentate on top-level women’s rugby games in 2019. Her back-up plan looked good.

The Black Ferns Sevens won gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, beating France 26–12, and playing to an empty stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions. Ruby’s postmatch interview was a global sensation, with her quick wit and sense of humour coming to the fore. She echoed the sense of playfulness that is part of the Sevens game.

In 2022, Ruby switched to the fifteen-a-side game and was a member of the winning Black Ferns team at the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup played in Aotearoa New Zealand in October/November 2022. They beat the world-leading England team in a nail-biting final, 34–31.

The tournament grabbed global attention thanks to the sheer joy exhibited by the players and fans alike, with Ruby a crowd favourite. Her energy and enthusiasm were infectious, pulling the 40,000-strong crowd together for a spontaneous rendition of the beloved waiata (song) Tūtira Mai Nga Iwi after the game. Footage of this went viral across the world.

As the women’s rugby game in both Sevens and Fifteens has continued to grow and gain public support, Ruby Tui has spent over a decade honing and building on her skills. In 2022, she released her autobiography Straight Up – the first ever by a female professional rugby player.

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Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.

Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.