Rugby World Cup: Youngest Black Fern Sylvia Brunt ready to fulfill rugby destiny on international stage

Teenage Black Ferns phenom Sylvia Brunt flashes a cheeky smile and instantly wins over the gathered media horde on the eve of the Rugby World Cup at Auckland.

"Can I say that?" she cringes disarmingly.

Sitting next to veteran international No.8 Charmaine McMenamin, Brunt is relating the best piece of advice passed on by her Ponsonby Fillies clubmate.

"Something she's taught me is to be brave and do the dirty work," she says. "Charmaine is always head down, arse up."


At 18, the Auckland midfielder is the youngest member of the New Zealand women's team hoping to defend their world crown on home soil, beginning this week against Australia at Eden Park.

But while she may still be finding her feet in the media spotlight, by all accounts, Brunt's impact on her teammates far belies her tender years.

"Honestly, I don't know if she ever feels any pressure," said Ferns assistant coach Whitney Hansen. "She's just there doing her job and having an awesome time.

"It's really cool to have around the environment for some of our experienced players, who do feel that a little bit more. She's actually added something as a youngster."

Brunt came to the national team through word of mouth, after playing no part in the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki earlier this year. Invited to Ferns camp, she immediately impressed with her maturity.

"I would never have imagined myself being here 12 months ago," she insists.

"That's funny, because when she first started, we always knew she would go far," adds McMenamin. "She was training with us at 13 or 14, maybe younger at Ponsonby - one of her aunties brought her along.

Sylvia Brunt in action against Australia
Sylvia Brunt in action against Australia. Photo credit: Photosport

"She was in there like an adult, we didn't go easy on her back then and she was one of those kids that could handle it. Seeing her here now is awesome."

Just last year, Logo I Pulotu Lemapu Atai'i Brunt still attended Mt Albert Grammar School, where the honours board features some of NZ sport's biggest names - including now Ferns teammate Portia Woodman and soon Brunt herself. 

"They rennovated the gym and got action photos of past MAGS students playing their sport," she said. "They look cool.

"Portia didn't play rugby back at school. We didn't have rugby back then and when I came in, all we had was sevens.

"I started playing with the senior girls and was the youngest in the team, but that didn't matter to me - I just loved playing. Since then, school rugby has grown heaps.

"We went from sevens to 10s and then making a First XV girls' team - the first ever in MAGS history - so that was something special I was a part of."

Brunt appeared in last year's one-off Blues v Chiefs clash, a forerunner to the Aupiki competition, and was named for the Blues squad this year, without actually taking the field.

Invited to Ferns camp, she wasted no time making an impression, debuting against Canada in June and scoring a try against United States in her next outing.

"She's just phenomenal and will have a massive future as a Black Fern," says assistant coach Wes Clarke. "She's very intelligent and picks thing up really quickly, when you coach her.

Sylvia Brunt scores a try against United States
Sylvia Brunt scores a try against United States. Photo credit: Photosport

"She's very natural and does things that are difficult to coach in some people... she just does them naturally."

Black Ferns culture has come under intense scrutiny since last year's ill-fated northern hemisphere tour, but Brunt's infectious attitude has obviously contributed to an off-field rebuild. 

"Everyone was making sure I was comfortable in the team," she said. "Being the youngest, it was pretty surreal for me.

"I tend to step back and stay a bit quiet, but they told me to not hide in my shell and express myself."

As McMenamin, 32, nears the twillight of her career, she has taken inspiration from those coming behind her. 

"The big thing with [Brunt] is to just be brave and courageous," she said. "You have your superpower out on the field, so just do what you're good at and everything will flow from there.

"It's like that with anybody, but it's cool to see 'Bubba' and the other young ones coming through. They have so much talent, it's unreal.

"I remember myself at that age, I was NOT like that, so seeing them coming through... seeing them in five years' time will be unreal."

Watch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us on Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Australia World Cup opener