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FARAH PALMER – Triple RWC world champion and Massey lecturer

Three-time Rugby World Cup winner Dr Farah Palmer has some sage advice to hand All Blacks’ coach Graham Henry before his upcoming World Cup mission.

“Relax and enjoy it,” says the former Black Ferns skipper and senior lecturer at Massey University.

“I would say to Graham Henry he should relax when it comes to the Rugby World Cup. By then he should have done all the work he can do as a coach; he would have selected a bunch of players who he knows can go out there and do the job.”

Palmer - who captained the New Zealand side that won the inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup tournament in 1998, and then again in 2002 and 2006 - believes preparation is key to succeeding on the World Cup stage, and not just physically.

“The main thing is that you’ve done your homework, and you’re ready for the tournament. Because once you enter into that tournament situation, you have to be at peak physical fitness and mental preparation, and have all parts of your life sorted. So when you get into the situation you are ready to perform and put all that hard work that you’ve been doing into practice,” she says.

“I’ve won the Rugby World Cup for women three times, and each time that I have been a part of that experience, it has affected my life… in terms of opportunities outside of rugby and also in my confidence in a range of contexts.”

While rugby has opened doors, Palmer’s work at Massey University also boosted her sporting career. She is now a senior lecturer in Massey’s School of Management, where her areas of expertise include governance, legislation, and cultural issues in sport, and education and leadership issues for Māori and women.

“My career at Massey has benefitted my playing career because it’s given me credibility, in terms of being the captain of the Black Ferns, and what I have to say off the field as well as on is taken with a bit more seriousness. And it has definitely helped my leadership in terms of being a rugby player and an athlete,” she says.

That’s why Palmer is an advocate of sportspeople balancing their playing careers with tertiary education. University, she says, is an “ideal time” for athletes to pursue their sporting dreams, and leadership development is an area where she believes Massey – New Zealand’s first athlete-friendly university – can make a difference for our sports stars.

“Massey could help with this, in terms of creating opportunities for the All Blacks when they are no longer All Blacks, or to enhance their performance while they are All Blacks,” she says. “There are a lot of rugby players in the professional era who need something else to do besides rugby, and I think the flexibility of the way Massey works is something that will attract rugby players to come and study here.

“That flexibility of your timetable during the week and the options that Massey gave me as a lecturer - in terms of having time off to go to sports events and tournaments - was really great.

“It’s very important for athletes to study because you’ll never know how long your career as an athlete will last, so it’s important to have a backup plan. And it gives you credibility in terms of not only being good at a sport but also having critical thinking skills.”

After finishing her PHD in sports sociology at the University of Otago, Palmer was faced with deciding which direction her career would take. She chose Massey University for a variety of reasons.

“I was still playing rugby at the time, so Massey seemed like a very attractive option because it was close to rugby clubs, it’s a convenient place to live and I worked for the sports management and coaching course, so that was really awesome in terms of what I wanted to do with my career,” she says.

Palmer is looking forward to the Rugby World Cup, for the spectacular festival both on and off the field. Māori culture, something very close to her heart, will feature strongly throughout the tournament.

“All of the teams will also be going through a powhiri, and a mihi, somewhere in New Zealand, so local iwi and hapu have been given the honour of doing that,” she says. “There’s also going to be an exhibition at Te Waka Māori on the waterfront in Auckland, and I think Māori throughout New Zealand will also be involved in the festival activities that are going on like Māori rugby tournaments and an enjoyable cultural experience while we have international visitors here.”