‘Trail-blazer’ Burnes planning next step on rugby journey

Fijiana prop Lailanie Burnes discusses her development as a coach and what it would mean to play in her first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next year.

Lailanie Burnes has played a pivotal role in the growth of women’s rugby in Fiji since relocating to Nadi from Australia 12 years ago.

Burnes, whose mother Nanise is from Nairai in the Lomaiviti Islands, founded Nadi Blazers Women Rugby Club, the region’s first female team, in 2012. The club has gone on to produce a number of Fijiana sevens and 15s players.

One of those is Burnes herself, who has captained Fiji’s 15s side and helped the team qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021.

Playing in the Pacific nation’s first women’s Rugby World Cup campaign in New Zealand next year remains an achievable goal for the prop, but she is already taking steps to ensure that rugby remains in her life once the time comes to hang up her boots.

In March, Burnes completed the Level 3 Coaching Award, on which she was assessed by World Rugby Master Trainer Richard Skelly, while she has also qualified as a World Rugby Coach Educator.

“I was so happy to be able to pass the [Level 3] course and it’s been something that I’ve been looking forward to doing and working hard towards,” Burnes told World Rugby. 

“I’m really grateful to my mentors who have helped me along the way and I’ve had some really great teachers from Oceania Rugby and Fiji Rugby, and of course the master trainers as well. 

“Also not forgetting all the coaches I’ve played under over the years in addition to those whom we undertook this coaching journey with. It’s been a very educating, challenging and rewarding experience.”

Leading by example

Burnes is keen to show women in Fiji that they can succeed in a male-dominated space such as rugby and would welcome the opportunity to coach men as well as women.

“In terms of being a coach I’m just going out there to help my players be the best they can be whilst having fun enjoying the sport I love,” she added.

“When you get on the field you’re coaching a player, it’s not about putting people into a box as a male or female. 

“Out there everyone plays the same code, has the same rules and it’s all about helping to develop the player on and off the field to be the best version of themselves.”

Burnes is not ready to stop playing just yet, though, and is determined to keep fit during the current lockdown in Fiji in order to help the team make an impression at its first Rugby World Cup.

“It’s something that we’ve all been really working hard towards, especially us senior players in the team,” she said. “I think this’ll probably be the last opportunity that some of us have to be able to go out and to be able to compete and represent our country at a women’s Rugby World Cup. 

“So, this is something that we’re all really, really striving for and it’s something that we want to go across to Rugby World Cup not just to make [up] the numbers. We want to be able to go out there and go all the way through. So we’re serious, we’re putting in the hard yards.”

Burnes fell in love with rugby as a child watching matches with her father, Colin and sister, Leonie while hearing stories about the former’s playing days in Sydney.

The Fijiana prop grew up in Australia and having been given the opportunity to pick up an oval ball at high school, went on to play club and representative rugby alongside Leonie. 

‘Trail-blazer for women in Fiji’

That passion for the game travelled with her to Fiji where, after a couple of training sessions with a men’s club in Namaka, Burnes decided to set up Nadi Blazers with her late aunt, Pat. 

“When I came to [Nadi] I saw that there was no women’s rugby club out here, and so I wanted to be able to introduce to other girls this sport that I absolutely love,” Burnes said.

“It was small numbers to start with but we were quite consistent and we were able to go out there and to really try to encourage girls to come and try this new sport.”

Burnes and her team-mates met with resistance in those early days, some of which was verbal, due to negative stereotypes associated with women who played rugby.

The prop is happy to report that attitudes have begun to change as Fijiana have made headway on the international stage, in both sevens and 15s. But it is clear that Burnes too has played her part.

“Lailanie is a trail-blazer for women’s rugby and for women in Fiji and the region,” Oceania Rugby Women’s Development Lead, Erin Hatton said. 

“With a rare ability to lift up those around her and a willingness to step up and contribute to the many different communities to which she belongs, she is a natural leader.”

Burnes admits she is humbled by such praise and is eager to share the acclaim with her peers.

“There are so many amazing women in rugby in Fiji, both on and off the field, and not forgetting our wonderful women ruggers that came before us and paved the way,” she said.

“For the small part I’ve played, to be acknowledged with these inspirational trail-blazers is truly humbling.”

Photos: Fiji Rugby Union

Last updated: Jun 15, 2020 11:49:56 AM
England v New Zealand - Rugby World Cup 2019: Semi-Final
World rankings Women's Men's Feature News Women in Rugby
The World Rugby Rankings in numbers
We take a look at some of the eye-catching numbers from the World Rugby Rankings in both the men’s and women’s game.
Photo of captain Babalwa Latsha playing for South Africa against Scotland
Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-power
Flying the flag for women’s rugby: Babalwa Latsha, the first African women’s player to go professional
Springbok women’s captain Babalwa Latsha made history when she became the first African women’s rugby player to turn professional in January 2020. Here she shares her rugby journey and hopes for the growth and development of the women’s game.
Rio 2016: France and Spain women run out at Deodoro Stadium on day one
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
Rugby at the Olympics: Creating sevens history at Rio 2016
Patricia Garcia, Jade Ulutule and Pierre Gilles Lakafia talk to World Rugby about Rio 2016 and their roles in the first men’s and women’s sevens matches to be played at an Olympic Games.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Women's Men's News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
International rugby set to resume in October as World Rugby Council approves temporary 2020 COVID-19 calendar
An exciting programme of international matches is set to take place later this year after the World Rugby Council approved a temporary adjustment to Regulation 9 to accommodate the release of international players for revised 2020 windows.
2020-SevensSeries_mark_generic
Men's Media release Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory Challenger Series wr-covid19
Plans revised for HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021
World Rugby and its partners are continuing to focus on planning for the 2021 Series and the build-up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which are now less than one year away
HSBC Sydney Sevens 2020 - Women's
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
One Year To Go: Japan hope to establish sevens culture through Tokyo 2020
Kensuke Iwabuchi and Hitoshi Inada talk to World Rugby about their hope that the Olympic Games will leave a lasting legacy of sevens in Japan.
Barbarians Women Training
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021
Wales and Bristol Bears’ Elinor Snowsill on life as a gay woman in rugby
The fly-half opens up about her journey through the game and states why “it’s still really important” to talk about LGBTQ+ issues today.
Iran - Germany women
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-regions
How women are changing the game in Iranian rugby
We take a look at the history of rugby union in Iran, a country where more women play the sport than men.
Rugby - Olympics: Day 6
Olympics Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
One Year To Go: Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020
As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympic Games begins in earnest, we take a look at the frontrunners, the most-improved teams and those set to make their debut.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Women's Men's News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
World Rugby Executive Committee recommends 2020 temporary COVID-19 international calendar
The World Rugby Executive Committee has today recommended a revised temporary 2020 international calendar with the express objective of optimising recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels.