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Liv McGoverne - In her own words
She's coming back and bringing the rugby world with her
I am a fan of Liv McGoverne. She’s one of the players I randomly message like I know them and she’s always been incredibly forthright in own chats. She plays like this too, direct in her actions. She was a standout for Matatū in their opening season, making approximately 3000 tackles and as many carries. So it was a bit of a surprise when she up sticks after that season to head overseas before the World Cup landed on our shores.
Her trip to the Premier 15s (now rebranded as PWR) was fruitful. The 12 turned 10 steering the Exeter Chiefs to the competition’s biggest final yet against Gloucester-Hartpury. Ultimately they didn’t come away with a win but Liv is coming away with a whole new set of skills she’s looking forward to deploying in New Zealand.
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I’ve been curious about that decision to leave since it happened. I thought there might have been a bit of a story there which would give some broader context to all the upheaval which was the Black Ferns environment between the 2017 and 2021 World Cups.
Turns out I was right, there was a good yarn. And just like my chat with Rawinia Everitt the other week, I thought Liv was the best person to tell it. So here’s my chat with Liv McGoverne in her own words.
Alice: I heard you’re not with Exeter this season, is this true?
Liv: I'm coming back to New Zealand. I'll be back in mid October. So sadly not with Exeter again but I think it's just a decision I sort of had to make.
Basically my goal is to make the Black Ferns. Even though it's amazing rugby here, I love it so much, to make the Black Ferns I've got to be playing back home. So I’ll do things like the FPC and hopefully Super, to get my name back in there.
The coaching right now (in New Zealand) and the setup they've got, seems like a good thing to be a part of. You can see it through the selections they've made. I think it’s exciting to want to come back. I completely understand if you’re not good enough to make it, that’s completely fair but before I left I actually found myself not wanting to make the team. By the end point, not with Smithy (Wayne Smith) and all that but like the coaching before, it didn’t feel like they respected me as a player.
When you think back it probably was a lot of burnout and what ifs and just don’t know what the hell is going on. It’s not normal, how much weird stuff we had to go through. Especially in women’s sports where people are working as well not knowing if tournaments are going to be on or not knowing if you’re going to be away for four weeks if the World Cup is going to be on.
But I feel like now, we’ve got so much more certainty with the WXV and Pacific 4 and all that. It’s like certainty of what’s happening every year, knowing when and where. With Super as well, what I hear is that it’ll be longer this coming season which is a good thing.
Over here, it’s certain from September to June when we play fully. You’re contracted for that amount of time. It doesn’t matter if you get injured, you’re still getting paid. In New Zealand, it’s this part that is missing. Not for the Black Ferns contracted players, they’re fine. But if you’re just an FPC player then you don’t know if you’ll get to play Super, it does make it hard. If you’re on the fringe, you don’t know.
The thing about me coming over here, I’m not making that good money at all but it’s enough to live and they pay for your accommodation and travel and that. It’s nowhere near as much as you’d get if you were working full time but it’s the thing where you just want to be full time rugby.
It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience of being able to do it. If I was in New Zealand, just playing FPC and a bit of Super but not a contracted Black Fern, I’d just have to work.
Obviously that’s the reality but it makes it difficult. Like I was talking to Whitney (Hansen) about this, you’ve got to put work on hold if you do want to make it because otherwise you’re competing with girls who train full time, 30 hours a week. And then there’s me doing my two hours after work, which is like I don’t know, 10 hours of training. That's why there’s such a difference and it’s difficult to bridge that gap.
I had made the decision in the FPC we had before the first Super. I was like, ‘Right, I’m going away next season. I want to do Super and then just leave’. For those last few years, I would not have considered leaving because I felt like I was close to the Black Ferns. Since I was about 19 or 20ish, I had been going to camps, I’d been involved and it felt close and I was happy with how I was playing.
But I got to the point where I was like ‘I actually just want to go overseas and experience something different’. I’d lived in Christchurch my whole life, played with Canterbury for seven years, it was getting a bit same-same and I just wanted a new sort of challenge.
After the first Super, I think I performed well but I thought it was how I’d been performing for Canterbury for the last few years. I didn’t think it was anything that out the gate. But when Smithy came in with the new coaches they were like ‘Oh we want you in the system’ and I was like ‘Oh shit, I’ve already booked flights’.
So I said to myself ‘Right, I’ll go to all the camps and put my 100% into it and if I make the squad for Pac4 then I’ll stay’. Then they said, ‘You’re not in the initial squad but we want to bring you into the last game or couple of games’. And I was like oh god, this is the worst situation because now I don’t know what to do because I literally have to choose.
I talked to Smithy a lot and Whitney and got advice from them. Smithy actually said to me ‘Liv, going overseas was the best thing I did and this will always be here but then again it could take one injury and you’re in the World Cup squad’.
I believed in my abilities, that I could make it and I was good enough. But I was like to be honest, if I can't make it into the Pac4 squad now and then all the 7s girls are coming in, who will fairly and rightly, be selected ahead of me. I am close but not close enough.
I didn’t even have a plan when I first came over here. I just knew I was going to play rugby overseas. I was going to go play in Spain at one point. I was just travelling and then Lizzie Goulden messaged me. I have never met her, we just knew each other from versing each other.
She’s like, ‘They’ve got this new rule where you can just get a sporting visa over here, you don’t have to go back home and pay for it’. I was so keen because I’m in the prime age of my career, I want to be playing good rugby. I asked her what club would be interested and so I looked at Gloucester, Chiefs and Wasps, before they folded. She sent my stuff to Susie (Appleby) and Susie contacted me straight away.
I was like ‘This is mean, 100% in’ and then Gloucester got in touch and they were keen as well, so I went and visited the club. Then I’m like ‘Actually, I really want to go here, I might not even bother looking at Chiefs’. But I ended up going to the Chiefs, just in case. As soon as I went there I never looked back. Gloucester would have been cool too and obviously they won but I’ve made such good friends and had the best season so it worked out good for me.
Before coming here, I didn’t know anyone who played for Canada, America, Wales and hardly anyone that played for England. I knew the big names but not really. Now I’m like, ‘I’m going to see you soon!’. If they come to New Zealand or if I make the team, I’ll see them all around the world and just know so many more people, it’s so cool.
When you’re in New Zealand, it’s like a bubble and you just think there’s nothing else, rugby-wise, out there. And that the way we do it in New Zealand is the right way. It’s just so crazy because once you leave, you realise what else is actually out there. The opportunities and the other people that play. Someone like Kate Zachary, that I wouldn’t even know she is. Now she is one of the best players I have ever, ever played with.
Even like the way you train, the rugby culture, everywhere is just different wherever you go. It is good to get out of the New Zealand system and see what else there is. It’ll be interesting when I come back, because stuff we do over here and stuff we do back home, I'm like if I could just merge both, you'd literally have like the perfect training.
When Susie was signing me she was like, we need a 10 and I was like ‘Oh yeah, I play mostly 12 some 10. It’s basically the same thing’. But I had never played 10, I just said that.
I think 10 suited me here because it was a lot of the kicking game and I wasn’t meant to run the ball much. Learning to manage the game was a massive learning curve for me. Which I think could be a point of difference for me back home where they prefer a fast running 10.
At the start, that ignorance was good. People would be like ‘Oooh we’re playing Sarries’ and I was like ‘Who?’. I played against people like Holly Aitchison, Zoe Harrison, Ellie Kildunne. So many good players and I played them multiple times.
It’s a very good competition. When you’re playing those top four or five teams, it's hard to compare cause it’s such different styles, but they are equal or maybe higher than Aupiki. Way higher than FPC where you are sort of playing most of the same people throughout the year. It gets a bit same-same so it was so good to have fresh people to play. I learnt so much from watching players like Holly Aitchison.
Everyone really respects Susie. I want to say there's no difference to her than a man but there probably is a difference. I wouldn’t say in a good or bad way, it’s just how you relate. Having a woman in that role, she fought for us to be equal with the men so much more than I’ve seen anyone do. We all respected her so much for that.
Susie's just a lot harsher than any coach I've ever been coached by New Zealand. I think that’s the general theme over here. They will be straight up. I respect it cause they'll just tell you. It's no wishy-washy sort of bullshit, of saying stuff you want to hear or to keep you.
When I had asked for Black Ferns for feedback they’d be like ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ and I know other people were being told that too. And it’s like no, I’m not being selected so it’s not keep doing what I’m doing. Or they’d say ‘Get fitter.’ and I’d be like ‘I know that, anything else?’. Whereas here, it’s just very straight up and you do need to have a thick skin. To be honest I have never seen so many girls cry at training compared to back home.
We start the season with the cup and there were none of the international players, none of the stars, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Then it went to the Prem and it was a completely different team really. I sort of knew we had something really good going. I think we won 14 games straight at one point. It just felt almost like we weren’t going to get beat, everything was going so well. You could even just tell with the training and that, you knew it was a high standard.
The day of the final, it still kind of gives me goosebumps now to think about it. It doesn’t sound like heaps compared to what the World Cup final was but we had 10,000 people there. Kingsholm was pretty much full. The crowds over here are just a different level. All the fans know exactly who you are and make up chants for you. I remember at one point in the game just literally having goosebumps like all up me because I was like ‘Wow, this is just unreal’. Like fully got distracted from the game for a minute.
The build up to it was cool, just with media and all that. It’s just bigger, it’s on the BBC and all the programmes here. And the fans, especially at Chiefs, they’re just so involved. They have fan group pages all over Facebook where they will discuss everything. It was something I had never experienced. Obviously I’ve been a part of FPC finals or in Super Aupiki but it was just completely another level.
Even though we lost that final, it was such a memorable game. Or even the semi at Sandy Park, where we had 6-7000 which was just crazy. The whole crowd was so loud that game against Sarries when we won at the last minute. I think coming off that game that literally felt like we won the finals. I don’t know if that hindered us, I don’t like to think it did, it was just such a high I don’t think I could have ever topped that moment at the time.
I feel like so much has changed ever since and I've only been gone for like a year and a half. It's exciting to come back to and I’m glad I'm not just coming back to the same thing. I'm gonna give it a real good shot to try and make the Black Ferns. I'll probably try until the World Cup. If that happens then I'll stay on of course.
But if it doesn’t happen, I think I'll come back here because it's just such a good setup. While I can, I just want to keep doing rugby as a job. I've got the rest of my life to work a normal job.
Alice again! Now I know some of you have said to me you’d love if I actually put these type of conversations together in some type of a podcast. I know, I get it, reading ain’t for everyone.
Reality is, that’s a whole new space that I need to up skill myself in because it’s not something I’ve done before outside of my various guest appearances. So I go back and forth on it.
There is a series I am dying to do, focused on a specific team but I also just come across all types of great yarns in my travels. Like the one I had with Peati Tuitama last week. Peati played prop for Wellington in the 90s and also ended up in the USSR playing rugby there as the country was breaking up.
Outside of rugby, Peati has lived a fascinating life as a body builder, ballroom dancer and one of the first New Zealanders to take a same sex partner on an international posting.
So it’s a case of when, not if, I guess. And how big a project I want to launch into from the jump. Welcome your feedback as always.
Alice’s Soapbox is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.