Black Ferns Sevens’ Justine McGregor on her rugby journey


By Adam Julian for LockerRoom.

Justine McGregor (Ngāti Porou/Ngāti Kahungunu) has played seven matches in the Farah Palmer Cup for the Wellington Pride but has yet to feature on the winning team.

When she applied for a place at Manukura, the leading female rugby school in the country, she was rejected.

McGregor was educated at St Mary’s College on Guilford Terrace in Thorndon. Not far from the Beehive, there isn’t enough space on the premises for a full-sized rugby field and the school can’t afford exorbitant council rates for alternatives, so they often rely on private rugby clubs for charity.



Yet against these various odds, McGregor has come out of school and been contracted straight into the Black Ferns Sevens for a year.

McGregor is 17 years old. She joins veterans Risi Pouri-Lane and Tenika Willison, who were contracted at the same age, in the Olympic gold medal-winning squad.

Justine McGregor on the run with Wellington Pride. Photo / Getty Images

“Where do I start? I’ve pretty much got here through hard work. I’ve played rugby from a young age. I played multiple sports, but when I decided to settle on the one code, I was really able to apply myself in pursuit of my goal to wear the black jersey,” McGregor said.

She is strikingly mature. The Pride failed to win a single game for the first time in FPC history last year, but utility back McGregor thrived.

Her natural talent was no more obvious than in her starting debut against Canterbury in Christchurch. The visitors were smashed 58-29. McGregor scored three tries, including a swiftly anticipated 60m inception and a 40m solo runaway.

“I didn’t get a lot of exposure in my first season, so I was determined to showcase myself more. I can’t let nerves get in the way; I’ve just got to play,” she said.

McGregor scored six tries in as many FPC matches. She was the youngest player selected in the Black Ferns XV in September which beat Manu Sina 38-12 in Pukekohe. Her impact from the bench was immediate, delivering a try-scoring pass to lock Laura Bayfield.

Earlier in the season, McGregor played centre for Petone in the Wellington Women’s senior competition. She won the Erin Rush medal as Best & Fairest player while also helping St Mary’s College continue their domination of the local secondary schools competition.

St Mary’s has won the Wellington First XV grade four times in a row. They’ve flourished even more in Sevens, winning the one-off Wellington Condor Sevens for nine years successively. Her single mum Terina McGregor is the team manager.

Despite few opportunities, Sevens is the game McGregor finds truly captivating. She was picked for the Central Storm for the 2021 World Schools Sevens in Auckland. It was another team, however, that made an even bigger impression.

“When I saw the New Zealand Under-18s play, I was like, ‘Wow I want to make that team,” McGregor conceded.

She achieved that goal twice in 2022 and 2023, catching the attention of Black Ferns Sevens coach Corey Sweeney.

“Justine has been a standout performer in the secondary school scene and has not taken a backward step since joining us. It’s obvious that she has had some great support and coaching in her conditioning and rugby; we are proud of how she has adapted in our environment and she’s already putting her hand up for selection.”

McGregor says: “I love Sevens. I’m typically a centre or first-five, though I’m adaptable and can play in the forwards. I love the speed of the game and the space it provides.”

She now lives in Mount Maunganui, where she flats with two-time World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde.

One coach and mentor made a profound impact on McGregor. Shannon Nightingale is not a household name. But the Petone and St Mary’s coach from Heretaunga, a humble suburb half an hour from Wellington, has been a big influence. He’s been coaching female sports for two decades, compelled to take part because of his daughter.

“Justine and my daughter have played with and against each other. Besides being naturally gifted, Justine has a work ethic that is second to none,” Nightingale said.

“She is willing to listen and take constructive feedback. Sometimes we’ve had to have conversations with her about overtraining. I’m so proud of her achievements. It’s only the start of great things.”

The player’s view? “Shannon is like a Dad to me. He’s helped me on and off the field - he’s that one guy who really believed in me and pushed me. I didn’t meet him until I went to St Mary’s, but he saw me playing junior rugby at Wainuiomata and was in touch with Mum. He had his eye on me.”

*St Mary’s were National Condor Sevens Champions in 2016 and won the National Top Four in 2017. All Black and two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea was the coach with close friend and Oriental Rongotai teammate Tuga Mativa.



Article added: Friday 23 February 2024


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