Rugby World Cup: Why Ruby Tui will always be grateful for support as New Zealand embraces Black Ferns heroes

As the Black Ferns enjoy an unprecedented wave of support during their home Rugby World Cup campaign, the unwavering backing of their fans isn't lost on star Ruby Tui.

Hosting the World Cup for the first time, the Black Ferns have already set a record for the biggest women's sporting event in New Zealand history, selling out last week's tournament opening day at Eden Park.

New to professionalism, the team have been followed by waves of newfound fans - young and old - as New Zealand has welcomed the women's World Cup with open arms.

Ruby Tui with fans at Eden Park.
Ruby Tui with fans at Eden Park. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

Last Saturday, after their opening win over Australia, Tui and her Black Ferns teammates stayed at Eden Park long into the night, meeting fans and signing autographs for every supporter waiting to meet their new heroes.

For 30-year-old Tui, who's enjoyed immeasurable success with the Olympic and former World Champion Black Fern Sevens before switching to 15s for the World Cup, every bit of the outpouring of support is a representation of the growth of the women's game.

And so long as there are fans wanting to meet her and her teammates, Tui will be sure to oblige.

"We never used to have support, people knowing my name, sending me pictures of my cat," Tui said.

"I went to go into a bookstore to get my book. There was this little girl, when I walked in she straight away recognised me. She already had my book in my hand and was like 'woah'.

"I slipped some tickets into a book for a competition, got to the game, that same girl was standing there with the book. She knew everything about our team, she was like nine years old.

"It's emotional because the growth of the game is that tangible, it's that significant.

"Anyone who comes down, if I sign one autograph, that's one more person that's coming to support us. It means so much to us.

"Those people mean so much to our team. They've literally changed our lives.

"We're professional athletes, we live a dream life. Any support is unreal."

Ruby Tui against Australia.
Ruby Tui against Australia. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

Up next, the Black Ferns face Wales at Auckland's Waitakere Stadium on Sunday, as the second match of the tournament.

Coach Wayne Smith has sprung several changes to the side that took the field against Australia, with 12 changes to the starting XV.

Tui is one survivor, albeit in a different position, switching from the wing to fullback as part of a new-look back three alongside former Sevens teammate Portia Woodman, and Renee Wickliffe -  a veteran of three previous World Cups.

And with a positional switch on the cards, Tui is embracing the challenge of doing something different - in her own way.

"I better be a good fullback and not full of it," Tui joked. "It's exciting.

"Smithy coaches an exciting style of footy. We've all grown so much in the last six months as players.

"My eyes are lighting up at the opportunity, to be honest. It's obviously my first start there, but the cool thing is I've got the young one [Wickliffe] on my right wing and a really good friend of mine [Woodman] on the left.

"We've already got really solid connections there. Fullback's all about reading the game.

"I feel like I've got six eyes to help me out. We'll talk after the game."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub at 3:15pm Sunday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Wales pool encounter.