Friday, December 8, 2023

Farmer is game for a challenge

Avatar photo
Two-time women’s Rugby World Cup winner Bex Mahoney is these days putting her energy into running a Tararua farming business with her husband Luke but she’s also breaking new ground on the rugby field. There are synergies between the two, as Colin Williscroft reports.
Reading Time: 3 minutes


Bex Mahoney likes to challenge herself to have a go at different things because that gives her an edge.

Is a simple philosophy but one that has paid off for the Pahiatua farmer. 

Only the fourth New Zealander to have played 50 first class games of rugby and gone on to referee 50 first class games, both men’s and women’s, the mother of two young girls spends much of her time getting her hands dirty on-farm while also exploring new farming opportunities online and on the phone. 

But come the weekend during the rugby season she’ll likely be found on a sportsground somewhere, either in NZ or overseas, helping control a match. 

She has played at Twickenham and officiated at Cardiff Arms Park and is the first woman to referee a NZ men’s Mitre 10 Cup game and a Ranfurly Shield fixture while also running the line in a Super Rugby match earlier this year. 

On top of that she’s controlled a number of Heartland Championship games. 

Having been brought up on a farm near Alfredton in Tararua as a sixth generation farmer, working the land is in her blood so it’s no surprise that she and Luke are developing their own farming business.

They’ve got four blocks totalling 600ha between Pahiatua and Alfredton, 540ha leased and the other 60ha their own. They run up to 4000 sheep and 900 cattle. 

It’s a trading operation so they move in and out of different markets, looking for opportunities as they arise. 

A significant part of the business is rearing lambs destined to become milking sheep while they also lamb Romney ewes and farm beef cattle and dairy bulls. 

Mahoney says Luke’s off-farm income through his mobile crutching business, which does about 500,000 sheep a year between Taupo and Martinborough, has let them build their operation, whether that be through leasing more land or buying in livestock as opportunities arise. 

It’s a challenge but one she relishes, having never been afraid to step up to them on the rugby field.

A first-five or fullback, she played 16 test matches for the Black Ferns, winning World Cup golds with the side in Canada in 2006 and England four years later. 

Though a talented young player in her early days she didn’t immediately crack the national side and was prepared to look further afield for opportunities to get ahead. 

Just out of school and missing out on a place in the Black Ferns she spent six months in England as a 19-year-old and was part of the England system, qualifying through her mum, Tararua councillor Shirley Hull. 

That led to playing for the England under 20s against Scotland at Murrayfield before she decided to come back to NZ where she played representative women’s rugby for Manawatu, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, club rugby for Eketahuna and made her Black Ferns debut in 2004. 

“I was fortunate to have played rugby in an era where women’s rugby was growing rapidly. 

“I was there at the right time. It was about having fun with my mates while pursuing the dream of wearing the black jersey.” 

The move to refereeing came when she was still playing at the highest level. 

Rebecca Mahoney in the yards after rounding up sheep for crutching. Photo: Colin Williscroft

“There is a need to protect the knowledge and experience of current farmers. They will lead our economic recovery despite taking some serious knocks over past couple of years. 

“Farmers are amazing people. The skillset and knowledge in the primary sector is going to be what creates a sustainable future for our children. 

“We need to be trusted and supported and it be acknowledged that we understand our business. We love the land, our animals and our jobs, that’s why we farm.” 

For Mahoney, there is another goal closer at hand – refereeing at next year’s women’s World Cup in NZ. 

“Absolutely, 100% I want to be there. And I will get there off the back of running a strong and robust family farming business.”

People are also reading