Source: Mike Lee KLC Fotos

Is this the Group to retain the World Crown?

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A New Black Ferns Squad

The new Black Ferns management has announced its choice of 31 players to form the squad for the Pacific-Four Series (listed below). Its importance can hardly be exaggerated, pointing the way to the likely World Cup squad.

Inevitably it reveals much about the state of women’s rugby in Aotearoa.

The captain of the past few seasons, Les Elder, is injured; so are Charmaine McMenamin, Aleisha-Pearl Nelson, Grace Brooker, Kelsie Wills and Kennedy Simon.

In Elder’s place Ruahei Demant has been honoured with the captaincy.  For Europeans who saw her performing on the Northern Tour this may come as a surprise, her game at No 10 looked somewhat off the pace.

The inexperience of the squad at test-match level is striking. The 19 players listed before Kendra Cocksedge have fewer caps combined than her 57. Fourteen more have fewer than ten caps.

One thing Wayne Smith and his colleagues cannot graft on to them is experience.

Cap manufacturers will prosper: ten debutants are listed. But they do include the famed Ruby Tui; astonishing to think she has never yet played for her nation at Fifteens.

In direct contrast, the one back to shine brilliantly on tour, Stacey Fluehler, is not listed, nor indeed the most feared name of all, Portia Woodman. (The 7s-15s clash rears its ugly face again) In their place the 36-year-old Carla Hohepa is retained. This distinguished player looked below her best on tour.

The coming Pac-4 series will be fascinating and unpredictable. All four nations can justly complain of lack of match practice over the past two years. At least the Black Ferns had four tests seven months ago, though they will not stir happy memories.

They will use these contests to get their motor pointing in the right direction again. The new contracts are bound to help them enormously.

The crucial exam will surely come against Canada.

But since the Maple Leafs leaked over 50 points against England last time out, the NZ management must know that more tests are urgently needed to bring the players up to speed. The standards to be met at the RWC will be a few notches higher than in the Pac-4.

There may yet be more squad changes before kick-off in October. Wayne Smith used the revealing phrase ‘an experimental tinge’ to describe the current state of the Black Ferns progress.

The Squad:
Luka Connor (25, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty, 4)
Natalie Delamere (25, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, new cap)
Georgia Ponsonby (22, Matatū, Canterbury, 2)
Lucy Anderson (30, Matatū, Canterbury, new cap)
Tanya Kalounivale (23, Chiefs, Waikato, new cap)
Pip Love (32, Matatū, Canterbury, 15)
Angel Mulu (22, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty, new cap)
Krystal Murray (28, Blues, Northland, 1)
Leilani Perese (29, Counties Manukau, 11)
Amy Rule (21, Matatū, Canterbury, 3)
Chelsea Bremner (27, Matatū, Canterbury, 0)
Joanah Ngan Woo (26, Hurricanes, Wellington, 5)
Maiakawanakaulani Roos (20, Blues, Auckland, 3)
Alana Bremner (25, Matatū, Canterbury, 3)
Tafito Lafaele (21, Blues, Auckland, new cap)
Liana Mikaele Tu’u (20, Blues, Auckland, 4)
Kaipo Olsen-Baker (19, Hurricanes, Manawatu, new cap)
Kendra Reynolds (29, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, 1)
Ariana Bayler (25, Chiefs, Waikato, 4)
Kendra Cocksedge (33, Matatū, Canterbury, 57)
Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (30, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, 6)
Ruahei Demant (27, Blues, Auckland, 15) – captain
Amy du Plessis (22, Matatū, Canterbury, 0)
Carla Hohepa (36, Chiefs, Waikato, 28)
Patricia Maliepo (19, Blues, Auckland, 3)
Chelsea Semple (29, Chiefs, Waikato, 26)
Renee Holmes (22, Matatū, Waikato, 1)
Ayesha Leti-I’iga (23, Hurricanes, Wellington, 12)
Cheyelle Robins-Reti (25, Hurricanes, Waikato, 3)
Grace Steinmetz (24, Matatū, Canterbury, 0)
Ruby Tui (30, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, new cap) (pictured above)