Ex-Black Fern also on the ball academically

Former Black Ferns prop Beth Mallard will graduate with a PhD in physiology from the University...
Former Black Ferns prop Beth Mallard will graduate with a PhD in physiology from the University of Otago today. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Former Black Ferns prop Beth Mallard is happy to help explode a few myths about the much-maligned intellect of rugby tight forwards.

Ms Mallard (29), who has played eight tests for the Black Ferns (2006-09) and 50 women's rugby games for Otago, will graduate from the University of Otago today with a hard-earned doctorate in physiology.

"I'm pretty excited. It's been a long time coming."

Her doctoral studies, which she began late in 2005, have been "ticked off" at last.

Certain stereotypes involving the rugby tight five are all too persistent, she concedes.

And some fans, as well as the odd yelping inside back, are all too quick to make a comment or two about the claimed dimness of those grafters up front, whose main crime seems to be just getting stuck in and doing the hard yakka.

"I guess it's a bit of a joke on the field. You're the one that does the donkey work," she says.

"I'm definitely not a flashy player, more the grinding sort."

At times tight forwards seem destined to be misunderstood, given they practise the mysterious black arts of the scrum, where much that goes on is well out of sight.

Referees and other onlookers may often be guessing and, as for front-rowers, "not even they know what's going on" at times.

So does her doctorate effectively prove that, even in the deepest and darkest of scrums, a good deal of brain power may be burning much more brightly than sometimes suspected?

"Well, yes, I suppose you won't get a PhD if you're stupid, but a big part of it is just the hard work and the grind."

And she is not the only Otago rugby forward to have gained high academic honours.

She points to Farah Palmer, the highly successful former Black Ferns captain and hooker, who completed an Otago University PhD in physical education in 2000.

Another "pretty good example" is former All Black and Highlanders hooker Anton Oliver, who has a bachelor of physical education degree and a BCom in finance from Otago, and has also studied at Oxford University.

Last year, it was hard to juggle the competing demands of top-flight rugby and academia.

"They probably both suffered a bit. My PhD definitely took longer than if I wasn't playing rugby."

She played for Otago as usual last year but missed out on the World Cup squad after the final trial was held the week before she had to hand in her PhD thesis, last June.

"It's fair to say my mind wasn't fully focused on the rugby."

She will dine out in Dunedin tonight with her father, Labour Opposition front bencher Trevor Mallard, her mother and other relatives and friends who have headed south for the celebrations.

And she still wants to get back in the Black Ferns.

"I don't think I'm quite ready to give up yet."


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