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Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith has high hopes for his team. Only a week out from their Women’s Rugby World Cup campaign opener on home turf, he believes that his charges are capable of achieving greatness.
And there’s a good reason why he stands firm in this belief – a 32-strong squad blending exciting young talent with seasoned players who have dominated all-comers so far this year. And they’ve done so with a brand of rugby that has even the coach in two minds as to what his best combinations are.
“I guess, we’ll have to get a feel of what the core of our team is,” Smith says.
“The World Cup is also an opportunity for us to see the depth we have. But I can honestly say that this squad we have is the right team.”
The Black Ferns kick off their campaign against long time rivals Australia at Eden Park. Victorious against the green and golds earlier this year, the Ferns understand that Australia will be back for vengeance.
“We may have beaten them already, but we know they’ll be our hardest challenge at the tournament,” young forward Liana Mikaele Tu’u says.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, so we’re just going to take it one step at a time”.
Liana is one of the many young guns in the team who are relishing the opportunity they have to wear the black jersey. Coming from a family or athletes, she hopes to make her family and community proud.
Over at the Fijiana camp, the excitement levels are at a high as they too prepare for their World Cup campaign. The only Pacific island side in the tournament, Fijiana will play England in their first pool match.
Known for their speed across the backline, the Fijiana coaching staff understand that the bigger nations will target their forwards during their campaign.
Scrum coach Greg Smith is up for the challenge, as he puts his forward pack through their final preparations.
“Our game with Canada before the World Cup was physical. They exposed us at scrums, and also some lineout issues,” he says.
“We’ve got to get our set piece, we’re playing England, France and South Africa and they’ll be attacking us there as well.”
As the kick-off date nears, both teams are hoping for a big turnout from fans and the community. With pool games happening across locations in Auckland and Northland, the stage is set for an entertaining tournament.
“I’ve been involved in the men’s game for a long time. But this team really deserves support,” says Black Ferns coach Smith.
“They are great around the community; they connect with people, they have good hearts and they’re trying to play really good rugby.”
Greg Smith for the Fijians says, “I’m pretty sure there’s heaps of community events put on by the Fijian people here in New Zealand.
“We’ve had messages from all over the country far and wide, wishing the girls and the team well.”