After mulling it over with other top athletes, Gina Crampton took on the role of Silver Ferns captain. Now she waits to see if she’s allowed to lead them against England.

Gina Crampton took time to think about whether she could be the next captain of the Silver Ferns. And now, her debut leading netball’s world champions is on hold. 

Crampton is in the same boat as new vice-captain Sulu Fitzpatrick, shooting debutant Grace Nweke and recalled attacker Peta Toeava – all in Level 4 Auckland waiting to hear if they have special exemption to fly into Level 2 Christchurch before Monday’s first test against the English Roses. It’s an agonising wait.

But then again, Crampton did make Silver Ferns coach, Dame Noeline Taurua, wait for her decision. 

Taurua had called Crampton on a Monday, asking if she’d take on the captain’s mantle; stressing it wasn’t simply a caretaker role replacing the pregnant Ameliaranne Ekenasio.

“Noels said ‘I want you to take some time to think about it… just don’t take too long’,” Crampton laughs. She called the coach back on the Thursday.

“I knew I was never going to turn it down. But I needed the time to get my head around it, and speak to a few people about dealing with the pressure that comes with the job. It popped up straight away, a wave of pressure came over me. So it was something I needed to work through.”

The list of people Crampton called was impressive. Two Silver Ferns captains, an All Blacks Sevens player and a Tall Black.

The Tall Black just happens to be her dad, Colin. Her go-to guy when things get tough. The first person the tenacious wing attack called.

“He’s always been that person for me. He’s a very calm, level-headed guy. I’ve had situations in the past where I’ve been upset or stressed, and Dad takes it all in and doesn’t react with emotion. I always value what he has to say,” the 47-test Silver Fern says.

Colin Crampton (pictured below with his daughter and son, Flynn) played basketball for the Nelson Giants and New Zealand in the 1980s. Today he’s chief executive of Wellington Water.

“We’ve been close forever, Dad and I,” Crampton, 29, continues. “He was at every netball game, and he’d get me sorted with good food and gels – something I didn’t think much of at the time.” As a young track and field athlete growing up in Wellington, her dad built her a high jump from bamboo so she could practise in the backyard.

“I had a few conversations with him about [the captaincy] over those days. I don’t know that we actually solved anything, but it was good to just chat with him about it and work through my thoughts. He’s really good at checking in to see how I was feeling about it.” (For the record, she told her mum, Ngaire, too).

Crampton, a Silver Fern since 2016, is very aware of taking care of her mental health. She’s been through tough times, dropped from the Ferns in 2017, missing the 2018 Commonwealth Games. “Mental health is such a big thing now – which it should always be. It’s obviously a big part of being able to do what we do,” she says.

Colin Crampton says his role as a father has always been to listen to his children. “To offer alternatives, but not judgment. So I just listened to what Gina had to say,” he says.

“Her biggest fear was that a captain has to be on the court all the time, playing the best netball. But the fact she might not be playing in one quarter doesn’t matter. The captain doesn’t have to be leading from the front all the time; it’s a team game.

“And her strength is building the team culture.”

He’s proud of his daughter’s ability to improve as a netball player and a leader with every season. “She always had a natural talent; her passing ability – to see the breadth of the court – we could see that in the early days,” he says. “But she was a late developer, and she’s really come to grips with that.”

Colin is taking Gina’s grandfather, Mac, to Christchurch where they will be part of the small crowd of family members allowed under Level 2 restrictions at Monday night’s test.

Crampton also made a long-distance call to her partner, Fa’asiu Fuatai, a former All Blacks Sevens and NZ U20 rugby player, who was playing professionally in New York.

“But he’s more someone who’ll say ‘Congratulations, that’s awesome’,” Crampton says. “He was so excited.”

The couple were apart for seven months this year, but are now reunited back in Auckland. Fuatai will return to play for New York next year. “It’s definitely not ideal, but it’s letting us both pursue our sporting careers. We know it won’t be forever,” Crampton says.

And it’s only natural she spoke to Ekenasio, the preceding Silver Ferns captain, who’s expecting her second child in November.

They were roommates in England when Ekenasio was first handed the captaincy reins at the Nations Cup in January 2020. At the same time, Crampton became vice-captain, alongside Jane Watson. (The three of them are now in business together, with a nationwide netball skills initiative).

Gina Crampton (left) and Ameliaranne Ekenasio working together at Silver Ferns training earlier this year. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography. 

“So I had the exact same conversation with Meels that she’d had with me back then,” Crampton says. “It was a good reminder of all the things I’d told her: You’re the right person for the job, you’ll be totally supported and you have to be you. All the things she was now telling me. It was like a full-circle moment.”

And then she was put at ease by Adine Wilson, who became Silver Ferns captain in 2005, leading them to gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Wilson took on the role when Anna Stanley, who’d captained the Ferns to their 2003 World Cup title, suffered a knee injury.

“Her circumstances were quite similar to mine. They needed another captain, and Anna was still around and involved, like Meels is now,” Crampton says. Ekenasio remains part of the Silver Ferns squad.

“Adine felt like: ‘Well I’m not trying to be the person who just left this role. I’m trying to be me’ and put your own spin on it. That’s something I’ve grown to learn over the last week or so – I don’t want to concentrate on being different. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to change all these things. I want to be able to put the captaincy to the side and still be me and play well.”

So her answer on that Thursday to Taurua was a resounding ‘yes’. And having Taurua guide her also helped Crampton’s decision to become the 28th New Zealand netball captain.

“Noels is the best person I could be under, because I know she would never steer us wrong. She’s so well thought-out and knows exactly which direction she wants us to take. So it’s pretty easy to follow her, and echo what she wants to do,” Crampton says.

“We have a close-knit group who’ve slowly evolved over time under the coaching of Noels. She’s always looking for continuous progression, and that’s helped build the closeness and culture of our group.”

The sure hands of Gina Crampton prepare to take a pass from Silver Ferns teammate Maia Wilson in this year’s Constellation Cup. Photo: Michael Bradley. 

Crampton is excited Fitzpatrick will be her wing woman in the Silver Ferns. 

“She was my New Zealand U21 captain in 2011, so I’m so stoked that we get to do this together,” Crampton says.

“She’s so amazing, and that showed in her leadership of the Mystics campaign this season – in the way she speaks, holds herself and presents ideas and thoughts to a group. She’s so level-headed, and very vocal in trainings and meetings, but it’s always positive, and always comes with love.”

Crampton’s sense of humour –  with her drive to constantly improve her game – were among the reasons Taurua offered her the responsibility.

“She’s also not afraid to drive others as to what is expected and she upholds the Silver Fern standards and values. Gina is a meticulous planner and her attention to detail is outstanding,” Taurua said at the time.

Humour and fun are a big part of who Crampton is.

“I can be serious but I’m big on the enjoyment side, having a laugh,” she says. “Of all the teams I’ve captained, from the Otago U21s to the NPC, we’d go to tournament weeks, which were really fun trips away with 10 of your friends. I think that’s something important to remember – to keep the fun and enjoyment of being in a team.”

Crampton is under no illusion this three-test Taini Jamison Series against the English Roses, 2018 Commonwealth Games champions, will be tough. Especially without Ekenasio heading the shooting circle and outstanding defender Watson out after ankle surgery. It will be an even greater task without the Aucklanders. 

“England are very strong, and even though they lost three tests to us last year, we had to fight for every win. We’re missing two crucial players in Jane and Meels, so it’s a good challenge for the rest of us to step up,” she says. On court, Crampton has built a strong relationship with Silver Ferns shooter Maia Wilson in her first ANZ Premiership season with the Northern Stars.

This is probably the most disrupted lead-up a Silver Ferns side have ever faced. They’ve had training camps cancelled by Covid, and the 15-woman squad – expected to arrive in Christchurch on Thursday – will have just three days together before the first test. England will have had a week out of MIQ.

“We’ve had countless Zooms but it’s not the same as being together, training as a group and getting out on court again,” Crampton says. 

“I’m sick of training by myself. When there are others around you, going through the same hurt, it makes it a little better. It’s been really tough to be honest.”

She’s kept herself busy in lockdown working on Skills Plus, the business she started with Ekenasio and Watson a year ago, which offers netball coaching sessions tailored to individuals, small groups and teams.

“Meels and I did a few holiday programmes recently. It’s really cool,” says Crampton, who studied personal training at Otago Polytechnic and has a postgraduate diploma in physical conditioning. “I’ve learned a lot about setting up a business, and it’s great to have something outside of our netball playing careers.”

* All three tests for the Taini Jamison Trophy between the Silver Ferns and England will be played at Christchurch Arena next week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday, all at 7.30pm. The games will be live on Sky Sport 1 and Sky Sport Now, with delayed coverage on TVNZ 2. 

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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