He’s a fearless player on the field, but Crusaders lock Tom Donnelly was a bundle of nerves when it came to asking his partner of five years, Jacque Moon, to marry him. “We went to Wanaka for the weekend and a friend of ours gave us a helicopter flight to land on a glacier,” says Tom (31).
“I was going to do it up there but it was a really bad day. The weather was no good so that got cancelled. I didn’t sleep much the night before. We were going to go up to Cardrona for a day’s skiing but the weather was too bad for that as well, so we ended up driving to the Possum Bourne monument.
“We walked down there and it was still a miserable day – snowing and cold – but I wasn’t going to wait the rest of the day. So I just asked her if she would marry me and she started crying.”
“I was standing on the steps of the monument which meant I was actually higher up than Tom, so he didn't get down on one knee,” remembers Jacque (27). “It is a bit of a blur but he said something along the lines of, ‘You know how much I love you and how much you mean to me...’ I was wondering what the hell was going on! Then he said, ‘Will you marry me?’”
“And she started crying,” says Tom. The two had talked about getting married one day, but Jacque thought that day was a long way off and the proposal came out of the blue for her. “I said yes,” says Jacque, who was born in Whangarei and works in recruitment, admitting the moment "blew me away".
They phoned family and friends to share the news before celebrating with champagne. Although there’s no longer the pressure there used to be for a young couple to tie the knot formally, Tom and Jacque wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m happy for us to be life partners for the rest of my life,” says Tom.
“It’s a tradition that was important to both of us,” adds Jacque. “Tom’s dad’s passed, but his parents stayed married and my parents are still married. We wanted to share it with our friends and family, and what better way to do it than to have a big shindig of a party.”
Wanaka is a place that's special to the pair, who spent a lot of time apart before the wedding as Tom was based in Christchurch and Jacque in Dunedin. As well as being the location of the romantic proposal, they had spent many holidays there. It was the logical site for the wedding, which was held at Criffel Station over three days in August.
“It was stunning – a gorgeous day, just beautiful,” says Jacque. “It was important not to get too caught up in the fluff of it and to keep it to something that was all about how we would do things, not just to do things for the sake of a wedding. It was a three-day event and it was fantastic.”
The pair says most of the arrangements went smoothly, perhaps because, says Jacque, “I made most of the decisions and Tom found out once things that I’d ordered turned up on the doorstep.”
It was an inclusive affair with 150 guests. “We didn’t want to leave anyone out,” says Jacque. There was no bridezilla – or groomzilla – behaviour, although the week leading up to the wedding had its stresses.
“There was definitely the odd moment,” says Tom. “We spent the week in Wanaka before the wedding and there were a couple of times I got yelled at.” But it wasn’t for anything he did, of course. “That was the problem. I wasn’t doing anything,” says Tom.
He may be exaggerating, although he certainly didn’t have anything to do with the dress. He knows “it was white”. “White and big,” confirms Jacque.
“I ended up getting it from a bridal store in Dunedin. It was made by a Spanish designer and completely the opposite to what I thought I’d wear. I always thought I’d wear something more... slinky, if that’s the right word, not so fairytale-like. I had tried on heaps of dresses, then I put that one on and loved it. It was perfect.”
Tom’s best man was childhood friend Garrick Cowley and Jacque’s maid of honour was her best friend from high school, Gemma Webster. Among the guests were fellow Crusader Corey Flynn, Highlander Jimmy Cowan and the Mad Butcher, Sir Peter Leitch. But there was no time for a honeymoon. The ceremony took place on August 10 and after a few days in Wanaka they were off to Japan where Tom will be playing rugby until January.
Their Japanese apartment couldn’t be more different from the wide alpine splendours of their wedding venue. “We are in a little town called Hashimoto, about 40 minutes from the middle of Tokyo,” says Jacque. “There are high rises with a few small green patches but not a lot.”
Moving to Japan wasn’t a hard decision for her, says Jacque. Before the wedding, “we had been living apart for a year when Tom signed with the Crusaders. It wasn’t ideal but I wanted to keep doing what I was doing in Dunedin, where I’d been working in recruitment. Now we’re here and it’s the complete opposite. We have all the time in the world together.”
Jacque has picked up work teaching English and Tom has adjusted to the very different Japanese rugby style. He says playing and living in Japan has been a real eye-opener.
“We’ve only been here a couple of months and it’s amazing how [it makes] you appreciate how good we have it in New Zealand, with space and green pastures.”