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EXIA Edwards was awarded the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union’s distinguished service award at its annual meeting on Wednesday for her contribution to the sport as a player and a coach over more than 20 years.

Edwards is pictured in action during the first test between the Black Ferns and England at Eden Park in 2005.

The award acknowledged her as the Bay’s most successful rugby player having won three World Cup titles with the Black Ferns in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and also a Sevens World Series title in 2001.

“TRULY the greatest achievements of any Bay rugby player” were acknowledged on Wednesday night when Opotiki’s Exia Edwards received one of Bay of Plenty Rugby Union’s highest honours.

In presenting the distinguished service award to Edwards, Bay of Plenty Rugby president Phil Barnett said it was a privilege to acknowledge her contribution to rugby over more than 20 years.

Edwards was awarded a Bay of Plenty Rugby Union’s distinguished service award at the annual general meeting held at Te Kura Whare in Taneatua.

Barnett said, “Only the most extremely deserving recipients receive the distinguished award which requires exceptional service and that is true in Exia’s case. She is the Bay’s most decorated rugby player and has made significant contributions in her role as a player and coach.”

“Exia has been a real leader in women’s rugby from her playing days, coaching of men’s and women’s rugby right through to the recent revival of women’s rugby in Opotiki.”

TOP HONOUR: Exia Edwards, the Bay’s most successful rugby player was awarded the distinguished service award by the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union at their AGM on Wednesday night for her
achievements as a player
and her service as a coach. Photo supplied

The Opotiki Sports Club started the nomination process last October citing Edward’s achievements as the Bay’s most successful player having won three World Cup titles in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and also a member of the team that won the first Seven’s World Cup title in 2001. A key member of the Black Ferns, Edwards was selected for the World XV after the Canadian World Cup in 2006.

She played for the Bay women’s 1st XV from 1999 until 2005 and was player/assistant coach for a time. In her 30 games for the Bay Edwards scored 128 points – 16 tries, 18 conversions and four penalties.

Opotiki Rugby club stalwart Tony Howe said, “It’s not only her achievements as a player, but what people don’t realise is the challenges she had to overcome to become a Black Fern.”

“She is the only woman I know of who played senior reserve grade rugby with men and there was all the travelling and training, often on her own, when there was no women’s rugby.”

Howe said her dedication to sport began early and her sporting prowess included playing league for New Zealand and representative netball.

“Despite all her success, Exia is a modest person who achieved great things through hard work and she continues to give back to the sport in so many ways.”

Opotiki’s Luka Connor, a contracted Black Ferns player in 2019, credits Edwards as “one of the best coaches who pushes you really hard as she wants the best from you.”

Connor was coached by Edwards at Opotiki College and says it was Edwards’ belief in her potential that set her on the pathway of representative rugby.

“With Exia’s coaching our Opotiki College 7s team got a couple of Bay titles and at the national Condor 7s we placed third and fourth.”

Connor says it is not only on the field where Edwards makes a difference, but also as a person outside of rugby “she is so determined and committed to the sport and to ensuring you are giving your best”.

In acknowledging Edwards’ successful rugby playing career, Connor says “the best thing is knowing she came from Opotiki and made it all the way to the top. She proved it can be done. It’s so cool she has been recognised.”

Edwards works for Sport Bay of Plenty as the Eastern Bay primary school director and continues to coach women’s rugby in Opotiki, one of only two Eastern Bay teams entering the 2019 Baywide women’s competition. In addition, Edwards is coaching Whakatane High’s girls 7s team which is currently competing in the North Island Secondary School competition in Tauranga.

As with all the Bay’s major service awards, nominations go through a stringent endorsement process starting at club level, then the Eastern Bay Sub Union, then be assessed and approved by the Bay Union’s presidents’ group and then final ratification by the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union board.

tania.humberstone@thebeacon.co.nz