Sevens star Stacey Waaka’s heavenly Waikato wedding

A star in the black jersey, Stacey looks gorgeous in all white – and groom Ricky agrees. ''My mouth just dropped,'' he says.

He’s been her number-one fan for the past three years, but Ricky Fluhler’s taken his devotion to the next level, marrying rugby star Stacey Waaka in a romantic sun-kissed ceremony on a berry farm.

It was a picture-perfect day for the sports-loving Waikato couple, who met on a blind date and celebrated their love four days after Christmas.

With 180 guests – including players from Stacey’s Sevens Rugby and 15s national teams – gathered on the Fluhlers’ Hamilton blueberry property, the teary-eyed pair pledged their heartfelt vows.

The couple tied the knot at the Fluhlers’ Hamilton blueberry farm on a picture-perfect day just after Christmas.

But as all eyes fell on the statuesque beauty, wearing a backless lace gown with a dramatic front split from Grace Loves Lace, and walking down the aisle on her dad Simon’s arm, her beaming smile masked a heartache after her sister and bridesmaid Shannon Waaka, 30, was left stranded in Fiji by a deadly tropical cyclone.

For Stacey, who had meticulously planned the entire day down to the purple accents on decorations in the guest marquee, learning her elder sister wouldn’t be there was almost too much to bear.

“It was a very emotional day,” she explains. “My sister flew to Fiji midway through December and was stuck in the cyclone – there were no flights in or out.

The new Mr and Mrs Fluhler are given a huge cheer. But with an epic year of sport to come, a honeymoon will have to wait.

“She was crying and absolutely devastated she wasn’t there. I’m her youngest and only sister, and I got a bit emotional,” shares Stacey, 24.

While they held out hope Shannon would be able to get back to Aotearoa, just 24 hours out from the ceremony they were forced to turn to their back-up plan.

The happy couple with their “Plan B” wedding party (from left) Stacey’s niece Shaarae Waaka, Theresa, Elizah, Ricky’s brothers Wade Lambert and Joey Fluhler, and nephew Buddy Lambert.

“I had to have a stand-in bridesmaid because my other bridesmaid, Elizah Ward, was expecting her second child five days after my wedding. Just in case she went into labour, I’d asked one of my rugby friends, Theresa Fitzpatrick, to be prepared and we planned another dress. Although Theresa didn’t replace my best friend, she ended up replacing my sister.”

Sister Shannon, in the meantime, watched the wedding on Facetime.

With the bridesmaid catastrophe averted, Stacey said the rest of the rustic-themed ceremony was every bit as beautiful as she had imagined.

Stacey’s teammate Ruby Tui leads a rousing impromptu haka which delights guests.

She tells, “Before the wedding, I was telling Ricky, ‘Don’t cry, babe, don’t cry’, and I got way more emotional than I thought I would. I was wiping away tears. I was about to say my vows and I choked a little bit at the start.”

Sales rep Ricky, 33, recalls waiting nervously at the diamond-shaped wedding arch he helped fashion just weeks earlier, flanked by his groomsmen brothers all outfitted in blue suits from Hallensteins, and being dazzled by his future wife’s beauty as she drew closer.

The carrot, banana and chocolate cake was made by Stacey’s Whakatane High School cooking teacher.

“My mouth just dropped,” he exclaims. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m a really lucky guy.'”

With three rousing haka by whanau, old school friends and Stacey’s Sevens teammates, as well as traditional waiata to round off the speeches, the day proved to be incredibly special for the sweethearts.

The marquee was styled by Stacey’s aunt, a professional decorator.

“We couldn’t have asked for much more,” smiles Ricky, proudly sporting a titanium band from Michael Hill on his ring finger, which complements Stacey’s white gold one from the same jeweller.

For the woman who has already experienced the thrill of being a world champion, Stacey reckons becoming Mrs Fluhler far outweighs any sporting triumph.

“My mouth just dropped,” Ricky says, of seeing beautiful Stacey walk down the aisle. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m a really lucky guy.'”

“It’s way higher than a rugby medal or championship because it’s combining two people and their families,” she gushes.

“Family is everything for both of us. To see everyone we love in the same room to celebrate with us, it’s way, way better than anything.”

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