Luka Connor stamps mark on Sky Super Rugby Aupiki

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The Chiefs Manawa ideals were established at the team's first camp late last year. Their jersey design is the mangōpare (hammerhead shark) depicting determination and tenacity. When the pattern is viewed from another angle it depicts the Manawa (beating heart) shape. 

 

“We didn’t even do much rugby at the first camp. It was about building our culture and identity; connecting with each other. We brought a piece of ourselves and put it together in a Taniwha, a beautiful design which followed us wherever we went and represented who we are,” Connor said. 

 

Their principles were best embodied in their second match of the tournament against the Hurricanes Poua. Down to 13 players, the Chiefs Manawa were forced to dig deep to preserve a 17-8 lead in the second half.

 

“When we were down to six in the scrum against the Canes we reflected back on the Taniwha. Once we hit that first scrum we knew straight away we can do this. Honestly the girls' mindset was so hearty. It was actually fun.”

 

The Chiefs Manawa won 29-8 with Connor an absolute standout. In the first half she scored a remarkable try, bursting out 30 metres and fending off former Black Fern Selica Winiata.

 

“The team got up there. I saw the opportunity and took off. At the start I got the wobbles. I was tired from the scrum and typically don’t get into space. I nearly fell over from surprise.”

Luka Connor

 

“I’m great friends with Shorty [Winiata] so that was bittersweet. She’s an awesome person and player.”

 

 

The Sky Super Rugby Aupiki season was in serious doubt due to Covid-19 and the competition faced several challenges. The first round of matches scheduled to be played on March 5 was replaced with a pre-season fixture between the Chiefs Manawa and Matatū. Connor scored her side's last try in a 28-20 win.

 

“We were unsure if the tournament was going to go ahead so we wanted to go out there and play awesome rugby and show the world what women’s rugby is about. It was a really tough game. Everyone on both sides played unreal. It was special to win.

 

“They had a strong backline and scored on the edges a couple of times. When we played Matatū again we brought more physicality and worked harder to shut down their outsides.” 

 

Lineouts and discipline were sometimes hard work with the Chiefs Manawa improving in each outing.

 

“We had the smallest lineout so that was a big challenge. It was very competitive but once we added a few different things, moved more, and established combos we got better.

 

“Our lack of discipline was frustrating. At the start of the game it’s about getting those clear comms and trying to adjust to the ref we had; working harder and smarter.”

 

The Chiefs Manawa were at their hardest and smartest against the nib Blues. Ahead just 8-0 at halftime, courtesy of a Connor try and Kelly Brazier penalty, the floodgates opened in the second spell when the nib Blues lost both Black Ferns props Krystal Murray and Aldora Itunu to the sin bin in quick succession. 

 

“Our mindset was let’s scrum, if we get multiple scrums we can get another card out of the ref.

 

“There was a bit of time when they were down in our corner and they kept trying to maul it. After we hit their mauls and held them up I could feel the confidence in our side grow. I guess we just wore them down.”

 

A Black Fern in 2019, Connor was hampered by a shoulder injury and missed selection for the 2021 Northern Tour to England and France. She's put her best foot forward for selection again in 2022, with several players to be added to the contracted squad ahead of a busy year which includes the Rugby World Cup in Auckland and Northland in October.