Lucy Jenkins is a tackling machine. The flanker recorded the most tackles in the 2022 Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) when Canterbury won the Premiership undefeated.
During Super Rugby Aupiki her defence for 2023 champions Matatū was mammoth. It compelled Black Ferns coach Alan Bunting to remark, “I could have named her the player of Aupiki before the final.”
Jenkins debuted for the Christchurch seniors when she was 15. In eight seasons she has won five championships. She debuted for Canterbury in 2017 as a 16-year-old. She has featured in 51 of the past 56 games played by Canterbury. She’s been on the winning side 47 times and has five FPC Premierships on her resumé
Jenkins has been knocking over opponents since she was four. She first played for her father Simon’s club, Kirwee, before joining West Melton. Often the only girl in the team, she wasn’t there to be bullied.
“You can only learn to tackle so many times. Tackling is a mindset thing. You’ve got to want to get your body in front and stop the opposition going forward,” Jenkins said.
“My favourite tackles are the ones when you stop people scoring a try close to the line. I’m not the biggest body so I try and get under people and take their legs out. That’s when a flanker is most valuable for their team.”
She has had a close at hand role model.
Casey Caldwell (née Robertson) was an invaluable Black Fern. She won three Rugby World Cups between 2002 and 2010 and played 38 tests over 12 years. Caldwell worked on the Jenkins family farm and when seven-year-old Lucy discovered Casey was a Black Fern her fate was sealed.
“It was a spectacle watching Casey play. She was a furious ball carrier, uncompromising tackler, an absolute beast,” Jenkins said.
“I guess my journey to the Black Ferns has been a bit different. Not a lot of the girls have that story of someone to look up to so young because was so little known.
“It’s been my goal for so long that when things get hard, I work harder.
“When I got my debut against Canada, I’d gone through that moment so many times in my head it didn’t feel like a big step up or huge change of pace. I’d done the work. I’d been contracted since April and trained every day. For me, it was about getting out there and doing what I’d always wanted to do.”
Longstanding clarity certainly helped Jenkins in a somewhat chaotic victory against the USA in July. In the second minute halfback Iritana Hohaia became the first Black Fern to be sent off in a Test match as the Black Ferns faced a 5-17 halftime deficit.
“It felt like every ‘what if?’ that could happen happened on that day. Halfback is such an important position it took us a while to adapt to not having one. At halftime, we talked about playing our own game, and increasing work rate. It was hectic but we knew we could win,” Jenkins said.
What is the worst ‘what if?’
“When a front rower gets sent off and you take off a loose forward. That could be me,” Jenkins responded.
A September 43-3 thumping of Australia in Hamilton wasn’t stressful for the Black Ferns but had added motivation to them to perform. It was just a few weeks before Jenkins’ grandmother Peggy passed away.
“That game was for her. I surprised myself a little bit by scoring a try. I had a crack and it felt like Peg was watching down on me. She loved anything her grandkids did. My sister is studying to be a doctor which is way different to me, but grandma was our biggest supporter,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins now has three caps, one as a starter and two as a sub, going into the new WXV women’s international tournament.
An appetite to learn is one of Jenkins’ hallmarks. She spent hours watching YouTube highlights of rugby heroes Richie McCaw, David Pocock and English legend Maggie Alphonsi. She studied coaching and statistics at the University of Canterbury and before she became a contracted Black Fern was building wardrobes.
The Black Ferns first opponent in WXVI is France at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Saturday. France has beaten the hosts four times in the past five Tests. In the Rugby World Cup semi last year, won by NZ with the slender scoreline of 25-24, the French loose forwards were immense. Charlotte Escudero made 19 tackles and won three turnovers. Romane Menager scored two tries three weeks after being knocked out in a pool game against England. Unfortunately, Menager is not touring but Gaëlle Hermet who’s captained France in all four wins against the Black Ferns will almost certainly be there.
“Their whole forward pack has a high work rate. They get around the ball and are strong on it, so our cleanouts must take them to the ground,” Jenkins said.
*The Black Ferns have played two test matches in Wellington. In 2007 they beat Australia 29-12 at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua with Carla Hohepa scoring three tries. Their only previous test at Sky Stadium was a 28-16 victory over Canada in 2017. Kendra Cocksedge scored 18 points, including two tries.