Given Portia Woodman’s lineage it comes as no surprised that she was destined for great things. Her father and uncle played Rugby for the New Zealand All Blacks and her aunt represented New Zealand with the Silver Ferns Netball team.
In 2013 Portia burst onto the Rugby 7’s scene with her speed, agility and try scoring ability having spent her years playing netball and athletics at a
high level. Netball was where she excelled and she was part of the Silver Ferns Netball team’s accelerant squad. Netball may have lost a star in the
making but it was Rugby 7’s gain and it has seen her propelled to a new level as an international sensation. I am not sure I have called many athletes
a ‘sensation’ over the years, if ever, but if anyone deserves it then Portia does.
Whether it is a casual chat over the years as I have gotten to known Portia or the interviews I have conducted with her, she is the same. Funny, friendly,
chatty and always laughing as we talk about all sorts of things. What stands out for me is her humility and team focus. If we talk about her phenomenal
try scoring (over 50 tries in Women’s Sevens World Series), her approach is to talk about the fact that it is the team that provides her the ball she
needs at the right time to score. She talks down her individual ability and talks up the team and that it is only because of their skill she can score.
So often the point scorers are the seen as divas, glory hunters and very selfish, but this couldn’t be further from the truth for Portia. “I just happen
to be one of the point scorers,” Portia tells me. For Portia she is “just” part of a team, a team of sisters where everyone has a different job, but
they all have the same goal, to win, always.
Twice nominated for World player of the year and winner in 2015, World Cup 7’s winner, highest try to game rate in the world, this is a player with who
oozes class and quality, yet she is so grounded. “I still rate myself as a rookie,” Portia says of how she sees herself and the journey. She talks
about how much more she has to learn and all those one percenters that she can fix and improve on. For me the most talented athletes I have ever met
have always been the ones who feel they have more to learn, they don’t feel they have arrived or are the best - and this is very much the case for
Portia is in a very small club of phenomenal Rugby 7’s players in the world at the moment and yet her humility shines through not only in our conversations
but in her conduct. I have seen and spent enough time with and around Portia to have seen ‘another side’ to her and there is none. Portia certainly
does not believe the hype, that’s for sure; she has her own internal compass and set of goals and standards that she works to. Equally when things
don’t work out she can admit what went wrong and look to fix it, never to blame someone else or make excuses. One of my favourite interviews with Portia
was straight after an unexpected defeat. We had a really candid chat about it all, and without all the bravado you sometimes see and hear at times
like this. She was disarming with her honesty and I respected her more for it because it’s not always about the wins, it’s about how players react
in defeat that so often says more about their character than any win can.
For Portia it isn’t about Portia Woodman, it’s about being a player that represents the country she loves and knowing that she can only do what she does
because of others. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support back home,” Portia explains and continues by adding, “it’s a team sport and you
don’t get over the line without them. That’s the management through to all the players”. Portia is a star who just wants to be, and is, part
of a team, doing her part to win. It is very simple for her.
There is a lot left for Portia to achieve in Rugby. For a start she will become an Olympian this year and wants to win Gold for sure. “I’m looking forward
to Rio, but there is a lot to work on,” Portia says of the Olympics coming up, not prepared to rest on her and the teams’ huge success. But as the
talk drifts there is still a twinkle in her eye for netball and the possibility of playing for the Silver Ferns. “Yeah, I still wonder about it, I
think I could make it,” she says smiling. This is an athlete with huge goals and even bigger dreams.
Nothing sums up Portia better for me than when I was chatting with her and her partner on the pitch, the remarkable Kayla McAllister, as she tried to sum
up what she does: “get the ball and run like hell,” and then starts laughing, quickly joined by Kayla. This obviously belies what she truly does and
all the training and focus, but what it does is show her character and heart - she sees what she does as simple and that she is learning. What a great
outlook to have for an athlete who is truly world class. I have enjoyed getting to know Portia and I look forward to seeing what the future brings