Above: Claire Rowat running into a gap for Old Boys University in their first round Fleurs Trophy match against Eketahuna last month.
On Saturday Old Boys University, Wellington Pride and 2009 Black Ferns hooker Claire ‘Shorty' Rowat played her 100th Premier Women's club game for OBU in her side's 17-12 Victoria Tavern Trophy win over Wainuiomata on OBU's number one home ground the Hawkins Basin Reserve. This is a fantastic achievement given that women play far fewer club games than men.
She has rarely missed a game for OBU since 2004. Prior to her joining OBU she played three seasons for the now defunct Wellington FC Women's side, so has played in excess of 130 Women's Premier games overall. She has played for the Wellington Pride representative team every season between 2001-2011 - except for 2006, the year the Pride won the women's NPC. The following year, 2007, she made up for not winning a winner's medal on her NPC season off by being named as Wellington's Women's Player of the Year. In 2009 she made the Black Ferns tour of England.
We caught up with her about her career, some of the people she's played with and her thoughts on the women's game:
Congratulations on reaching 100 games. How special is reaching this milestone for you, and what was it like celebrating the goal on the OBU's home turf at the Basin Reserve?
I am extremely proud to make it to 100 games. I have met, played with and played against great people over the years and I guess that was something fun we reminisced about throughout the day and night. I really appreciate the club because their support has kept our team going for this milestone to be achieved. Playing at the Basin was really special. What a great field to play on! Loads of people turned out to watch and cheer us on as well.
Is OBU the only club you've played for?
While I was at school back home in Taranaki I played for Spotswood United. It was a great place to start my women's rugby career and a good stepping stone for the Wellington scene. When I first moved to Wellington in 2001 I played for Wellington Club. I played there for there years before heading over to OBU in 2004.
When did your rugby career start?
I started playing rugby when I was 15 for my school team, New Plymouth Girls' High School. We played a bit of 15s but we mainly played Sevens back then. We were a pretty good team and took out some tough tournaments. It's been 15 seasons of rugby since then which makes me feel really old!
Can you remember your first games for OBU?
I do remember my first games for OBU. We were coached by Mike Sisam and Jack Fagalilo We got a couple of good thumpings by Hutt Old Boys Marist and Ories and then we had a close loss to Johnsonville in our third game of that year. We won a total of three games that year so we were definitely in the building phase!
What are some of the highlights of your club playing career?
2008 was definitely a highlight. The previous year we had lost all but one game which we drew. Thankfully 2008 was a lot more successful. We beat top qualifier Johnsonville by one point in the semi-final. We had a huge battle with Norths in the final, which didn't end quite how we would have liked with a loss (15-8). We had a great team and a great coach, Tony Tumoana.
Another highlight would have to be Saturday. Playing my 100th match on the Basin will definitely be a moment I won't forget in a hurry.
The people have been special to me. Being a university based team we seem to roll people in and roll them out quite frequently. Some have stayed longer and some for just 20 minutes. I definitely think you make lifelong friends as you go into battle every Saturday with the girls in your team.
You've been playing at halfback this season for OBU - but you've played most of your rugby at hooker?
I learnt how to throw the ball into the lineout when I was still at high school so I decided that hooker was my position. I have played hooker since then with a bit of halfback thrown in there.
Hooker is definitely my preferred position. I have been filling a team need this season at halfback. I guess because I have been around for donkey's years I know a lot about the game and I'm certainly not shy so halfback can work. I have played a little bit of halfback over the years and I play quite a bit of halfback in Sevens.
You've also been an integral member of the Pride for a long time. You reached another special milestone in Wellington colours last year?
I played my 50th game for Wellington during last year's Women's NPC final on Waikato stadium. That was another special event. I made the Wellington team in 2001 as a nervous 18-year old. That season I played a total of 20 minutes! Ten of those minutes were on Eden Park!
A win against Auckland and that trophy has still eluded me over the 11 seasons. I actually took a break from representative rugby in 2006 after not making the World Cup team and of course that was the year Wellington won the NPC!
Any memorable moments that stand out for you playing for Wellington?
2004 - I scored my first NPC try against Hawke's Bay. It was from a lineout drive, I just love those forwards tries! 2007 - We had a tough season and got pipped in the NPC semi-final against Auckland. I was rewarded by being named as the Wellington Women's Player of the Year.
You've also played for the Black Ferns - that would be a career highlight?
Definitely. I was a member of the Black Ferns in 2009 for a tour to England. I had been around the scene in wider squads and trial camps but never made it so when the phone call came that I was finally in I was stoked and jumped around the house like a mad woman for a good hour. Being a part of that environment was amazing. I loved the professional yet family feel of the Black Ferns.
The Black Ferns have a very limited season. For the one tour I was involved in there were three games scheduled which were the only Tests the Black Ferns had that year. We played two Tests against England and one game against England A. I was on the bench for both games against England and unfortunately didn't get on the field. I did get to do the anthem and the haka though which was pretty special. The second Test was on Twickenham so being involved in that match was breathtaking and something I won't experience again. I did play 80 minutes against England A, So my international history is one first-class game for the Black Ferns.
Where are your favourite places that you've played?
Eden Park - The Auckland Rugby Union are great and work hard to get women's games on Eden Park. I have actually played there a few times now. The Stadium - Earlier this year I was involved in a Women's Sevens exhibition game that was played on the Stadium during the Sevens. That was madness! I felt like 30,000 people were just cheering for me!
Through Sevens I have been able to play in some great places in Australia and with some great mates. A group of us took a team up to Darwin earlier this year to play in the Hottest Sevens, this tournament was mad! 30+°! I melted. It will go down as a favourite though!
Who are/is your toughest or most respected opposition - both club and representative level?
In the representative scene it would have to be Auckland. They seem to have such depth in talent up there and every year I play them they seem to produce bigger, stronger and faster athletes. In the club scene it would Norths. Over the years I had some hidings from them and a few close loses. They are a strength in the Wellington Premier Women's competition and have worked hard to keep their team going for a long time as well.
Who are some of the individuals or teammates that you most admire?
There have been many people who have helped me during my career.When I first came to Wellington Nigel Soloman and Erin Rush pushed me hard at both club and representative level. They looked after that poor student that I was well by feeding me the odd pork roast! At OBU I have made some lifelong friends in Bekki Pope, Tuila Waterhouse, Lali Schmidt and Fili Fai. These girls encourage me in both in rugby and my life to work hard and are always challenging me to be better than before.
Tia Paasi is another team mate who has had an impact on my career. When I first played rep rugby in Wellington Tia was the front row master. She took me under her wing and taught me a lot about the front row battles as well as how to sneak feeds into your room late at night.
I have a whole heap of other people have impacted on me during my rugby journey such as coaches, team mates, trainers and supporters.
Do you have any comments on where the women's game is at? What changes have you seen in your time playing? Has the game evolved in the decade you've been playing?
I think that the women's fifteens game is struggling at the club level at the moment in Wellington. I am worried about this and I hope that in the future the huge numbers in the College competition will filter through. There has been a drop in teams over the years since I started and I guess more concerning for me is the rise and fall of so many women's club sides. I think there should be some rules set in place for entering the competition to save defaulted games and encourage girls to stick with one club. This would see more clubs develop strong women's teams rather than many struggling teams.
I think that women's Sevens being included in the Olympics is going to help grow the Sevens game. There is already huge excitement about Rio in 2016 and the New Zealand Rugby Union are planning some exciting tournaments to get New Zealand ready to win gold.
I guess as a women's athlete I always wish for more! I wish there were more facilities offered to women's representative players and teams. I wish there was more Black Ferns Tests to strive for. I wish women's rugby players were paid so I could just play rugby all the time!
Are you hoping to play for Wellington again in this year's women's NPC? How long might you keep playing for?
I guess I will have to see what happens with reps and rugby in the future. There are a lot of young girls coming through who are fearless and so talented, I have to fight it out for my position and see if I can cut it.
I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep strapping on the boots, I am definitely starting to think about Saturdays with no rugby - sometimes I am excited for that, other times I think that day will never come.