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Sandra Ioane – a rugby pioneer

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Lynn McConnell     19 Sep 2018     Getty Images

She's club manager at Auckland's high-profile, and successful, rugby club, Ponsonby.

It was a role made possible from a lifetime interest in sport, motherhood and supporting her children's sports teams and being one of those parents who believed, as she said it, "Don't open your mouth unless you're going to put your hand up."

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Her Masters degree in Sports Marketing gave her some intellectual gravitas for the position she now holds but it was her interest in her children's activities that paved the way.

That interest marks her as possibly a little different to other female administrators, her kids include All Blacks Rieko and Akira Ioane.

The rugby connection was helped by the fact that she was among the pioneers in women's rugby, being part of the first Black Ferns sides selected back in the early-1990s, when her maiden was Gavet.

"I always liked rugby and wanted to get into some sort of sporting work. I had a lot to do with Auckland athletics so whatever my kids played I got heavily involved in, whatever it was. As well as rugby I had a lot to do with athletics and water polo."

From a farm in the Bay of Islands and one of 10 children, her prowess in rugby wasn't a surprise to her family who had always regarded as 'more of a tomboy' and her father was especially impressed when she won Black Ferns selection.

"I played for the social side of it. There were only seagulls watching us. We were playing touch and anything else that was going. It was the social aspect, that's how we got everybody.

"Back in those days it was always between Marist and Ponsonby. There were only about eight teams altogether and we had to travel to Hamilton every three weeks to play the team down there," she said.
"On the provincial side Canterbury and Wellington had teams and that was about it. In Christchurch we played on some outlying field, we didn't play at their main stadium but in Wellington we played at Athletic Park."

It was too early in the development of the game for there to be thoughts of where it might all end up. 

"We took it seriously, but not that seriously, if you know what I mean.

"I remember when Anna Richards came to play with us. She was playing for different reasons. She was looking ahead whereas we were just looking to next week.

"Most of us had children and we would sit around and say, 'I wonder if our girls are going to play?' But that was about it."

She never envisaged where the game might go because it was all 'pay your own way' at that time.

"In Auckland it was pay your own way and when I made New Zealand it was pay your own way."

While not begrudging modern players the benefits they get from playing, she did think the players of her era would have coped in the modern game because it wasn't as physical now.

The attitude of the Ponsonby club when they first set up a team was supportive. The club provided the side with jerseys but they had to do the rest of their organisation themselves. There had been no heavy-handedness from officials and she felt they probably thought the women would fall on their faces.

"From Ponsonby's perspective we won the competition 10 years in a row but there were only a handful of teams, but at the same time you have still got to win it," she said.
Making her Black Ferns debut in 1990 she had five appearances at lock between 1990-92.

"Our New Zealand coach was Laurie O'Reilly who we thought was really advanced at that time. The hardest thing for a lot of girls was the financial side but I thought it was really cool. I mean all of us had made it and we thought, 'who would have ever thought?' There was two of us who never went on the 1991 tour to Britain but the girls who did go said it was awesome and they still talk about it," she said.

Throughout her playing career she said they had good coaches right through the grades they played.

She married Samoan international Eddie Ioane, also a Ponsonby player, and when their children came along they started to play for the club so they acted as coach and manager respectively for their children's sides as they moved through.

Sandra ended up being a volunteer for the Ponsonby junior club before moving into her role as club managed.

While the job involved a lot of attention on people skills she said she still loved going out and watching the kids play while keeping an eye on what was coming through and she also enjoyed watching the Premier side.