*THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED BY ALLBLACKS.COM
Monica Tagoai is one of the most damaging midfield backs in New Zealand rugby. A Black Fern before her 21st birthday, she has the brains to complement her brawn.
Rampant for the Hurricanes Poua in the inaugural Sky Super Rugby Aupiki, Tagoai recently completed a Master's degree in intercultural communication at Victoria University.
In 2019 she broke her tibia and fibula, an injury that sidelined her for nine agonising months. How was Tagoai able to maintain an academic and athletic edge?
"Be yourself. I like winning. Hard work is better than excuses. I try to express myself on and off the field," she responded.
Tagoai was at her expressive best for the Hurricanes Poua. Unfortunately Covid put paid to the Blues fixture on March 10, but five days later the Poua resembled caged lions against eventual champions, the Chiefs Manawa.
The Hurricanes Poua dominated possession and territory against a better prepared opponent. Tagoai broke the line often in Sky Super Rugby Aupiki.
"The team was stuck in camps and isolation for so long we were so hungry to play. It was a privilege to represent our community and play with girls from Manawatū, Taranaki, all together.
Tagoai at Black Ferns camp in Christchurch
"That Manawa loss hurt. When we played Matatū we worked hard to be smarter and more patient. We had to dig deep but when we got the ball to Ayesha (Leti-I'iga) that was a great feeling. Once she gets past the first defender nobody is going to stop her."
Leti-I'iga scored both tries in the Hurricanes’ 18-6 win over the Southerners. Last week Tagoai joined her best friend (Leti-I'iga) at the Black Ferns camp in Christchurch. The first of several camps in preparation for the World Cup in October. This one was highlighted by the presence of two-time All Blacks World Cup winning coach Wayne Smith.
"Camp was so fun. I learned so many new things and have set some new goals to improve my game. It was great to come up against the best players in New Zealand and test myself.
“I learned techniques for passing better under pressure. How to better estimate where the defender is better and how to move my body to make the movements more comfortable. Smithy really breaks things down. It's amazing.”
Tagoai earned three caps for the Black Ferns in 2018 just two years after leaving St Mary’s College in Wellington. In 2016 St Mary’s were National Sevens champions and 15s runners up with All Black flanker Ardie Savea a member of the coaching staff.
She had a breakout Farah Palmer Cup in 2018, scoring two tries in the shock 43-38 win over eventual Premiership champions Canterbury. She bagged another brace in the 57-5 mauling of Otago in the Championship final.
She debuted for the Black Ferns off the bench against the USA in the historic Soldier Field test in Chicago. She added further appearances to her resume when she appeared in two tests on the French tour.
Her tibia and fibula injuries were sustained while playing for her club Marist St Pats (MSP) - a club Tagoai has been associated with since 2015 and is rising in stature in the capital.
In the first match of the Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy on April 2 this year, MSP thrashed 15-time champions' Norths 41-5. It was the first ever victory for MSP over the Porirua powerhouse.
Notably, Wellington Pride outside backs Thamsyn Newton and Georgia Daals scored five tries between them. Both girls have joined from the now defunct Old Boys University Impalas. Daals played 39 games for OBU from 2014 to 2017 scoring 465 points, including 51 tries. Newton (also a Wellington cricket rep) scored 155 points and 25 tries from 2019 and 2020.
"I know Georgia well and she was going to go to Oriental Rongotai (Ories), but I was like "they've already got heaps of good players, come to MSP.' She took a bit of convincing but man she adds so many skills, fire and energy to the backline,” Tagoai acclaimed.
Ories are the current Wellington Champions. In 2021 they beat MSP 89-15. Last Saturday the two clubs locked horns in a thriller with Ories narrowly winning 27-17, breaking a 17-17 stalemate in the last quarter. Tagoai scored a try and believes MSP gained massively from the experience.
"We gained a lot of confidence from the Norths’ game and were out to prove people wrong against Ories after the big score last year. We've had a good culture for a while, building experience with the same players returning.
“Club rugby is about playing for your family and alongside girls you might never get to play with in the future. Sometimes the score doesn’t matter, but making sure the girls take something out of every game is vital.”
Former Black Fern Charlene Gubb is a member of the MSP coaching staff. During the week Tangoai works for the Ministry of Justice.