Rugby World Cup: Proud Northlander Krystal Murray hopes to inspire next generation in Black Ferns homecoming

For Black Ferns prop and proud Northlander Krystal Murray, Saturday's Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland on her home turf will realise a dream she's spent a long time processing.

Captain of Northland Kauri in the Farah Palmer Cup, the Kaitaia native jokes she's imagined running out at Semenoff Stadium - renamed Northland Events Centre for the tournament - in front of the Te Tai Tokerau faithful "only a couple of thousand times".

The match will be the first time the Black Ferns have ventured outside Auckland during the tournament. They'll remain in Whangārei after their final pool game against the Scots to play the quarter-final the following weekend.

"It's just amazing," said Murray. "It's been a dream of mine to be here, representing my people in front of everyone, and it's just good for everyone to witness it as well."

The demand for tickets from her friends and whanau for Saturday's contest has been so overwhelming, she's had to go cap-in-hand to teammates and coaching staff for a share of their allocation.

The pathway for the region's aspiring players to the national squad hasn't always been smooth, with their Farah Palmer Cup team only established in 2019.

Alongside superstar and fellow Northland product Portia Woodman, Murray, 29, hopes to set an example for the next generation of aspiring women's players up north.

"That's one thing that's at the front of my mind and my motivation, knowing that we've struggled with a pathway to this team from here in Northland," she said. "I'm happy that the girls can see that it can be done."

As it happens, Murray's own path to the national squad has been unconventional in itself. She began her international career in rugby league, representing New Zealand at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

Murray in action for the Kiwi Ferns in 2017.
Murray in action for the Kiwi Ferns in 2017. Photo credit: Photosport

After five test appearances, she converted to the 15-players code and quickly rose through the ranks. Last October, Murray made her test debut for the Black Ferns in their clash against England at Exeter, where she reached the prestigious rank of dual-code international.

As rapid as her ascension has been, Murray admits the transition to rugby has been demanding, as she learns the complex nuances of the prop position.

"It's a lot more technical in my position," she noted. "The learnings have been great, but hard."

That said, she's maintained the hard-running approach that was the hallmark of her success with the Kiwi Ferns, as demonstrated in her bulldozing charge to cross the chalk in the 56-12 win over Wales.

She hopes returning to familiar surroundings will help her take another step up against the Scots by delivering for her legions of proud onlookers.

"Just playing for my home region has done a lot for me personally and kept me motivated," she said. "We've been out for breakfast this morning and the locals have really been getting in behind us. 

"We definitely feel the support."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us at 4:45pm Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Scotland pool encounter