New Zealand's Portia Woodman holds off defenders to score against Wales at the Women's Rugby World Cup
Wellington (AFP) - All Blacks legend John Kirwan rates New Zealand try-machine Portia Woodman as one of the greatest wings in rugby after her eye-catching exploits at the women’s World Cup.
Woodman has scored five tries in the tournament with her blockbusting runs for the hosts, who face Wales in a quarter-final in Whangarei on Saturday.
“She is one of the best wingers across both genders,” said Kirwan, 57, who won the inaugural Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks on home soil in 1987.
“If you go through a list of what makes a great winger, she has it all: pace, power, step, fend, acceleration, aggressiveness in contact,” Kirwan told AFP.
“It’s a winger’s job to score tries and she takes every try which is there for the taking.”
Kirwan scored 35 tries in 63 Tests for New Zealand, compared to Woodman’s 32 tries in 21 appearances for the Black Ferns, which includes five seven in a warm-up before the tournament against Japan.
After claiming a hat-trick in the opening victory over Australia, Woodman scored two more in a 56-12 pool win against Wales, their opponents again on Saturday.
Portia Woodman (R) scores against Australia on the opening weekend of the Women's Rugby World Cup
Woodman was top-scorer with 13 tries when New Zealand won the 2017 women’s Rugby World Cup, including eight in one game. But disaster struck the following year when she ruptured her Achilles tendon.
After a long spell on the sidelines, Woodman returned to help New Zealand win Olympic gold in Tokyo last year.
Kirwan suffered a similar injury towards the end of his career and said recovery can be tough.
“I snapped my Achilles and was never the same, from an acceleration point of view,” Kirwan said.
“I really admire her for coming back, because it’s not only physical but also psychological.”
- Echoes of Lomu -
Woodman admitted the injury still affected her.
“The biggest thing is the calf on that side will never gain the strength back,” she said. “So that’s a constant battle to work on it.”
Woodman’s barnstorming style has seen her compared to another All Blacks legend who struck fear into defenders, Jonah Lomu.
“It’s pretty cool,” Woodman, who was a prop before converting to a wing, told AFP.
“I always looked up to Jonah Lomu. On the field, I just try to use my power and speed as much as I can, whether I run through, around or over people.”
England are World Cup favourites and are on a record 28-game winning run, but Woodman said New Zealand enjoyed being underdogs.
“We’re up for the challenge,” she said. “I feel like we have nothing to lose. Just go out there and do what we love to do.”
Woodman said having former All Blacks assistant Wayne Smith coaching the women’s side had raised standards.
“He’s an absolute genius. He’s honest and we love it, because that is the professional environment we want in this team,” she said. “He sees things in such a different way.”
The Black Ferns have had plenty of other experts to call for advice.
“We have had heroes and legends of the game offering help,” she said.
“Dan Carter and Richie (McCaw) have come in a couple of times. It has been really cool to pick their brains and understand how they see the game.”
Woodman was inspired to take up rugby after both her father, Kawhena Woodman, and uncle, Fred Woodman, played for the All Blacks.
All Blacks legend John Kirwan scored 35 tries in 63 Test matches for New Zealand
“I played against Portia’s dad and uncle, they were great outside backs,” said Kirwan.
“You never wanted to mark the Woodmans. They were strong, fast and aggressive, all the things she has shown.
“The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”