22 September, 2023
Both Laura Bayfield and Leah Miles are familiar with the build-up, the nerves and the self-belief that comes with elite-level sporting competition. But they are definitely excited to be wearing the black jersey.
Fresh from the provincial Farah Palmer Cup competition, the pair got the phone call last week to join the newly-created Black Ferns XV squad, with a week to prepare for their first match in the World XV competition.
The Black Ferns XV was formed to foster the professional growth of players, coaches and management on the international stage, according to New Zealand Rugby (NZR). It’s seen as a high-performance pathway to the Black Ferns.
Both women have worn black before, in the Defence Ferns team competing in the first International Defence Rugby Competition (IDRC) last year.
NZR called CAPT Bayfield after the Farah Palmer Cup final against the Auckland Storm. She and several other Canterbury team-mates were picked for the squad.
“I was super-stoked,” she says. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
An engineer, CAPT Bayfield is second in charge (2IC) at 3rd Field and Emergency Response Squadron at Burnham Military Base. “The Army has been 100 percent behind me,” she says.
“They’ve been really supportive all year while I’ve been training for Canterbury. I’ve been keeping up with some work, as much as I can, but rugby is the focus this week.”
This team has different people, but it’s the same energy, she says. “Nerves are natural, but you believe in yourself and your abilities. You know you’re here for a reason.”
CAPT Bayfield enlisted in the NZ Army in January 2017, after graduating from Mt Albert Grammar School in Auckland.
In 2019, as a Second Lieutenant with 2nd Engineer Regiment, Bayfield was in Officer in Charge of a team of engineers involved in the construction of a Bailey bridge over the Waiho River in South Westland, after the original bridge was washed away by floodwaters. It remains one of the highlights of her career.
“I started as 2IC last year and I really enjoy it. It’s really diverse and every day is different. You work with emergency responders, with very different trades and you get a very broad experience of engineers.”
Private Leah Miles, a reservist with 2/4 Battalion 1RNZIR in Dunedin, had been looking forward to a bit of off-season time after an intense season with her Otago Spirit side, plus her Super Rugby Aupiki commitments with South Island franchise Matatū.
She was also looking to reconnect with her reserve unit, after putting things on hold to concentrate on rugby. “Then this came up, and you can’t say no. The first person I told was one of my best mates. I went to her work class and told her there and she said, ‘what?!’”
She had joined the reserves in 2021, saying she had been at a loss as to what to do after finishing her degree – a bachelor in psychology at the University of Otago. “My careers adviser planted the seed, saying I had the personality of someone that would steer towards military service. I thought, that could be quite cool, and a new way to push myself.”
She is excited for tomorrow’s game. “I think I’m feeling like I normally would. We all know how to play rugby.”
She says a lot of younger girls in the various teams have asked her about the Defence Force. “I just say, go for it. The life lessons you learn are so valuable. And they can see how supportive the Army is to me, giving me heaps of time to train.”
CAPT Bayfield agrees. “I’m a great example of the Defence Force supporting its people in sport. In Year 13 I loved sport and that was one of the factors that drew me to the Army. I’ve played volleyball in Australia, hockey at a national level, Defence Force rugby and provincial rugby in Canterbury. There’s a lot of similar values in the military and sport, and the Defence Force has supported me the whole way.”
Black Ferns XV v Manusina XV, Navigation Homes Stadium, Pukekohe, Saturday 22 September at 4.35pm, live on Sky Sport 1.