Kelly Brazier is looking beyond the end of her long, golden Black Ferns Sevens playing career – and a likely third Olympics – with her latest assignment coaching a women’s sevens team in Japan.
Brazier has signed up to work with the Brave Louve side in Japan’s burgeoning women’s sevens series during the Black Ferns off-season, starting next month.
Famous for her trademark step, this is another one in the right direction for 33-year-old Brazier – who still wants to play for the Black Ferns Sevens through till at least next year’s Paris Olympics, but has always said she wants to coach when she’s hung up her boots.
She’s even been touted as the first woman to coach the Black Ferns Sevens.
But right now what’s most important to Brazier, who’s played 208 games for her country in the World Sevens Series, is that she learns as much as she can from her experience with the Brave Louve side. And that she gets to take her whānau – wife, Tahlia, and their two young sons – along with her.
The eldest, three-year-old Oakley, is now aware his mum plays rugby for a job, and says he wants to “grow up to be a Black Fern”. And youngest son, Sullivan, who’s just turned seven weeks old, has had a rough start – with Covid at 10 days old (“that was a bit gnarly”), followed by a viral infection while Brazier was playing at the Hong Kong Sevens.
So it’s important to Brazier she has her whānau with her, to help Tahlia and to share with them the experience of another culture.
“It’s massive for me to be with them, and then do my passion, teach some girls skills and learn from them, too,” she says.
Kelly Brazier with sons Oakley (left) and Sullivan.
Brazier’s decision follows on the heels of her captain, Sarah Hirini, who’s heading in the same direction – joining the Mie Pearls as the first Black Ferns Sevens player to take a sabbatical to play in Japan.
“I’ve been involved in the game for a while now, and it’s crazy to think my time will come to an end,” the four-time World Cup winner says. “But in reality, I’m getting older and I’m starting to look.
“I’m passionate about the game and the experience it’s given me, and I love the tactical side as well. It will be cool to venture down that pathway and give back in some ways.”
Brazier has worked with Bay of Plenty age group teams in the past – and even run coaching clinics in Japan. But in the last few years, her focus has been chiefly on playing (when the Covid pandemic hasn’t interrupted).
“I’ve done little bits of coaching, but never been in it day in, day out,” she says.
“So to be amongst a team, a group of players I know nothing about – after 10 years with the Black Ferns – that’s already put me outside my comfort zone and challenges me. I’m quite a shy person, so even putting myself out there is something I’ll grow from.
“I want to be an open book – work with different coaches and learn from them, and share what I know with them. And then come back home and share that experience with the girls. And then I’ll see where I go from there.”
Brazier’s eight-week role begins after she’s played at the final tournament on the World Sevens Series in Toulouse, France, in three weeks’ time (where the Black Ferns are aiming to finish on a high, claiming a sixth World Series title). She’ll touch down for a day at home before the family fly to Japan and settle in the city of Fuchu, half an hour west of Tokyo.
Her role at Brave Louve is ‘spot coach’ – working on the game plan and player skills, she explains.
“It’s kind of cool because I come in pretty much the day before their first tournament – which allows me to come in, see the game they’re playing and then teach them skills. In a short period of time, I’ll try to bring in some ways to change or skills they can adapt and get better at.
“I’m sure it will be jam-packed. But the challenge excites me.”
It all began with a “random” contact from the club, keen to have Brazier work with them.
“Initially we thought it wouldn’t work with the dates of their season and ours,” she says. Discussions came to a standstill for a while, until they settled on a two-month window. Like Hirini, Brazier has a short-term sabbatical in her New Zealand Rugby contract.
“Before they messaged me, I’d never heard about them. But it’s the first time they’ve ever qualified for the top league, which is exciting, I think – a group that hasn’t been there before, who’ve improved to just make the competition. I’m looking forward to doing what I can to help the team stay in that league.”
The Brave Louve general manager, Nanba Yoshinori, says the club is thrilled to have Brazier – “one of the world’s top players” join the team to “help change the future of Japanese rugby”.
“We will be holding clinics for young Brave Louve players, as well as junior high school through university students in Japan who want to go global,” he says.
(Brave Louve, he explains, means Brave She-Wolves – “we will be howling on the pitch”.)
Playing against the Cherry Blossoms, the rapidly-improving Japan sevens team, on the world circuit, Brazier knows their fitness is “next level” and their strong work ethic is similar to her own.
“I’m looking forward to working with a group of likeminded girls who are going to put it all out there,” she says.
“The other massive thing I get from them is their want to learn new things. You can be at training with them for three hours, and they’re still hanging around saying ‘What else can I do?’”
Brazier isn’t fazed about language being a barrier. Four years ago, a Japanese sevens group came to New Zealand, and while off the field nursing a calf injury, Brazier was able to coach them. “From that I’ve been over to Japan to do four or five coaching clinics when it’s fit in with my leave from New Zealand Rugby,” she says.
“I was bit nervous back then to be fair – me by myself and a guide and translator. Not many of them spoke English, and at the time I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. But I learned a completely different way of coaching – I couldn’t spend five minutes explaining a drill because they couldn’t understand me.”
Although she’s “definitely not fluent” in Japanese now, she’s picked up basic commands, and will be doing homework to learn more before she leaves. Another coach at Brave Louve speaks a bit of English, she’s been told.
And one of the new players in Brave Louve this season is a Kiwi – speedy winger Deena-Ranginui Puketapu, who’s also represented New Zealand in the Touch Blacks, and played for the NZ Defence Force in touch, netball and basketball.
The 2023 Brave Louve women’s seven’s squad
Brazier admits the constant travelling with the Black Ferns Sevens is tough on her young family, especially with a sick new-born.
“It’s a struggle. I know when I’m left at home with the two of them how hard it is and Tahlia does it every day,” she says.
“But in going to Japan, we can spend more time together. We’re lucky the team trains on Tuesday and Thursday from 5pm – that leaves time we can do things as a family. I couldn’t imagine heading there without them.”
Brazier has loved this World Sevens Series – “we’ve lost once in this entire year” – and says she’s still learning from the game.
“It’s addictive in a way,” she says. “The way this team has bounced back after having to watch the series from home a-year-and-a-half ago and now being able to play at all the tournaments, is next level.
“We want one more win to finish off, then take a break, then the lead into the Olympics. There will be no rest, that’s for sure.
“What makes me want to turn up every day is, although we’re winning, I know how much better I can be as an individual as well as the team. We’re always hunting to be better and be more consistent and see where we can take this. Winning is a bonus on top of that, but to be able to do it with your best mates is special.”