Rugby: Ruby Tui turns back on Olympics to focus on Black Ferns, inks new deal with Chiefs Manawa

The defending Olympic champion Black Ferns Sevens will likely be without one of their biggest stars for their gold medal defence at Paris next year.

Ruby Tui has announced she will return to Chiefs Manawa, after signing a one-year deal for the 2024 Super Rugby Aupiki season, as part of the 2022 World Cup winner's renewed commitment to the 15-woman code, which involves putting the Olympics on the backburner.

With Olympic gold and silver medals already hanging in her trophy cabinet, Tui says her focus will be firmly on the Chiefs Manawa and the Black Ferns, as she capitalises on the sport's growing profile among women.

Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui with their gold medals in Tokyo.
Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui with their gold medals in Tokyo. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I played sevens for 10 years and I had two goals - I wanted an Olympic gold medal and I wanted women to be professional in this country, if they chose to play rugby," she said.  

"Sevens are doing great. They're hissing, they're flourishing.

"Paris will be amazing, but if I ever get FOMO, I'll just whip out the gold medal. It's just quite heavy.

"I'm really, really happy with the strides we made in sevens, but as far as I'm concerned, the Black Ferns have just gone pro."

In May, Tui inked a new two-year deal with NZ Rugby, citing her commitment to growing women's rugby as a big motivation behind her decision.

Last month, NZ Rugby announced significant changes to Super Rugby Aupiki for next season, including increased player payments, an extended competition with a home-and-away format and a longer pre-season.

"Fifteens is our national sport here in New Zealand, keep in mind. I know [Black Ferns coach Allan Bunting] and I have had lots of conversations - what do we do now, what do we do next.

"The Black Ferns, Super Rugby Aupiki, in New Zealand and everywhere in the world - that's where the growth is now.  

"That's where it needs to be, that's where the support and the resources need to be thrown into. and that's why I'm here."

The Black Ferns have been a mixed bag, since winning their second straight World Cup last year, handily beaten in the inaugural WXV1 tournament by both England and France.

"We saw in WXV, we didn't get the results that we wanted to, so Super Rugby Aupiki now becomes our focus and our main tool to get better on the world stage."

Tui is eager to help right those wrongs, as Bunting's team builds towards a mammoth test - albeit yet to be confirmed - against the Red Roses at England's iconic Twickenham Stadium next November in front of more than 60,000 fans.

"That's something that just drives me to work here on our whenua every single day to be as good as I possible can be to make that opportunity.

"That is huge. It's so exciting for our game."

Tui last played for Chiefs Manawa when they lifted the trophy for the competition's inaugural year. This year, the World Cup winner took a sabbatical and joined the Premier Rugby Sevens in the United States, before returning to New Zealand for Farah Palmer Cup.

"After travelling and playing abroad, I have seen firsthand how important Super Rugby Aupiki is to the success of the Black Ferns, so I'm super excited to re-enter this competition at a time when women's rugby is growing at a furious pace.  

"There are some pretty good offers floating around out there now, but when I looked at my life right now and why I play, there was no other team.  

"Manawa is in my heart now."

The next season of Super Rugby Aupiki kicks off in March, with six weeks of round robin, before the top two teams play off in the final.

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