La Toya Mason on winning a World Cup and coaching Taranaki's FPC side

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A year later she played for England against the Black Ferns in Esher, Surrey. It was the beginning of a 70-Test career which saw her part of a 2014 World Cup winning team and culminated in the 2017 World Cup final loss against the Black Ferns in England. 

 

Mason is back in New Zealand coaching Taranaki in the Farah Palmer Cup, helping build grassroots foundations for women’s rugby in the region.

 

“It was always my intention to come back to New Zealand. When I retired I was just waiting for a job. Taranaki Rugby was the first to offer a development role,” Mason explained.

 

“When I first arrived in Taranaki I thought, ‘what the heck is going on here?’ Things were bleak. We’ve made good progress growing the game, but still have a lot of work to do. It’s crucial to talk to players to see what they think and have a good CEO and board in place who want to promote the girls game.”

La Toya Mason

 

In England, Mason worked for the RFU as Community Coach, growing the game in the Surrey region.

 

Born and bred in Auckland, Mason attended Massey High School and played for North Harbour as a teenager in 2001 and 2002. 

 

She switched to Auckland soon after where she alternated between the Storm and the B’s who competed in the National Provincial Championship at the time. A high point was in 2006 when she helped her club Marist win the Coleman Shield and Auckland to a seventh consecutive national title. 

 

“Marist and Auckland were pretty stacked in those days so it was pretty hard to get a look in. When I decided to go to England it was initially for ‘pretend university’ and then the premise changed to: “What I have I got to lose.” 

 

 

Mason flourished as a “loud,” “organising” halfback for Wasps and was invited to trial for England. She qualified for England through her four grandparents and debuted in front of her Mum, Dad and extended family. 

 

England is the dominant force in the Northern Hemisphere. Mason was a part of four Grand Slam Six Nations winning teams. In 2014, she came off the bench in the 21-9 World Cup final win against Canada in Paris. 

 

“They love a bandwagon over there. The reaction to our win was insane. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a pub on the corner and it was jammed with our supporters. We had Sky TV with us on the plane and a press conference at Twickenham when we got off. We met the Prime Minister and some of the girls even got VIP tickets to Rihianna and Jay-Z concerts. We were backstage with Madonna and it was like, ‘what are we doing here?”’ 


England won the BBC Sports Team of the Year award.

 

“The best thing I brought back from England is a greater understanding of what professionalism is. I got better at juggling work, rugby and life,” Mason reflected.

 

“In England the breakdown work is really expectational. It’s a different pace but there are little pieces about the breakdown I didn't really understand until I played over there.” 

 

Taranaki rejoined the Farah Palmer Cup in 2018 and failed to win a game until their 14th attempt against North Harbour in 2020. Last year they beat Tasman and ran North Harbour and Hawke’s Bay close. A more collaborative effort involving players and administration is driving improvement.

 

“Before the club season started we had four hub days on consecutive Sundays’ where anybody could turn up for coaching classes. Neil Barnes (Taranaki men’s coach) ran some of these sessions. 

 

“We talked about the bigger picture. If one club has a squad of 30 players and a bye why can’t they release some players to help other clubs. The important thing is the girls are playing as often as possible, growing all the time.”

 

Taranaki was beaten in their opening game of the Championship season by North Harbour 21-10. A slow start meant Taranaki were well behind initially, but they rallied bravely and won the second half. Fullback Danielle Muggeridge scored a cracker of a try when she dived to take a low pass, performed a forward roll, bounced to her feet and swatted aside three defenders. 

 

Other standouts included second five-eighth Badinlee Munro-Smith and flanker Jacquelin Tulloch. 

 

Next week Taranaki travels to Trafalgar Park in Nelson to play Tasman who they beat 34-12 last season.