Rugby: Return of prop boost for Otago Spirit scrum

Former Black Fern prop Kamila Wihongi trains with the Otago Spirit at the Edgar Centre this week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Former Black Fern prop Kamila Wihongi trains with the Otago Spirit at the Edgar Centre this week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The return of former Black Fern prop Fern Kamila Wihongi will add strength to the Otago Spirit scrum in the national championships that begin this weekend.

Wihongi (26) missed last season because of reconstruction surgery on both her knees.

Her anterior cruciate ligaments were injured in collisions on the rugby paddock.

"It was very frustrating not being able to get back on the paddock with the girls," she said.

"I had to make a decision to take nearly two years off to recuperate."

Last winter, she returned to her home town of Kaikohe to regain confidence and fitness, and also coached a college rugby team.

"It gave me the desire and made me want to get back and give it one last shot," Wihongi said.

The real test came when she returned to Dunedin this winter to play for the University club and Otago"I want to make the Black Ferns squad again," she said.

"I know that I that I will have to work hard to get back up there."

Her knees stood up to the pressure of club rugby and this has given Wihongi the confidence to return to the representative scene.

Two props who Wihongi has looked up to and gained inspiration from are former All Black Carl Hayman and former Black Fern Margaret McKenzie, who took Wihongi under her wing when they played together in the Otago front row.

"I have learnt a lot from [her] about techniques and tactics," she said.

Wihongi played for Northland before coming to Dunedin to study at the Sports Institute of Otago in 2000.

She then went on to complete a physical education degree at the University of Otago.

Her ability was recognised by the New Zealand selectors and she was named in the Black Ferns for the Churchill Cup in Canada in 2005.

Wihongi comes from a sporting family, with siblings Milliar (23) and Carlin (21) playing senior rugby in Northland.

The most noted member of the family is her sister Verina who became the first New Zealand woman to contest taekwondo at the Athens Olympics in 2004.