In 1997 the Black Ferns defeated Australia 40-0 in a curtain raiser to a Bledisloe Cup Test at Carisbrook. The All Blacks 36-24 win over the Wallabies that day is best remembered for Christian Cullen turning George Gregan in knots in a classic length of the field try. Earlier the Black Ferns were in imperious form with the aforementioned Rush scoring 20 points.
“When I kicked a sideline conversion the place went nuts. I think it was a novelty back then for a girl to kick a sideline conversion. A lot of the crowd were my scarfie mates,” Rush said.
Rush was part of the 1998 Rugby World Cup winning team and for several months the trophy resided in her student flat.
Forsyth Barr Stadium hosts a seventh meeting against Wales on Saturday in round two of the WXV 1 series. Both sides are rebounding from defeats – the Black Ferns (17-18) to France and Wales (22-42) to Canada.
The Black Ferns have never lost to Wales and conquered them twice at the 2022 Rugby World Cup winning the pool game 56-12 in Waitakere with Sylvia Brunt scoring the World Rugby try of the year. In the quarter final in Whangārei the Black Ferns won 55-3 with a Portia Woodman double meaning she passed England’s Sue Day as the leading try scorer in Rugby World Cup history with 20. The Black Ferns have nine survivors from the clash, Wales ten.
Who: Blacks Ferns v Wales
Where: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
When: Saturday, October 28, 4:00pm, Live on Sky Sport and Sky Open
Referee: Amber McLachlan (Australia)
Assistant Referee 1: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
Assistant Referee 2: Sara Cox (England)
TMO: Rachel Horton (Australia)
Hold the Ball
The Black Ferns created more than enough chances to beat France last Saturday camping inside the visitors’ 22 for a dozen minutes but 15 handling errors were costly.
The weather conditions were dry and calm in Wellington, so a “no excuses” mantra was echoed collectively. Expect much better ball retention from the hosts under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Black Ferns starting backline features just one change from France with winger Mererangi Paul replacing Katelyn Vaha’akolo who drops to the bench.
In the forwards, loosehead prop Kate Henwood is promoted to start ahead of Krystal Murray. Fellow prop Chryss Viliko was suspended for two games after her red card.
Lock Chelsea Bremner tasted defeat in a black jersey for the first time in 15 Test matches last Saturday. She’ll be motivated to influence the outcome from the outset.
Layla Sae earns her first Black Ferns start. Her all-action style impressed the selectors during the Farah Palmer Cup (FPC). Alana Bremner drops to the bench. Tanya Kalounivale is a late injury scratching with Sophie Fisher coming onto the bench for her potential Test debut.
Halfback Ariana Bayler is rested this week with dynamic Taranaki replacement Iritana Hohaia likely to offer more of a running game.
The Black Ferns were very solid at the lineout against France, winning 87% of their own throws (12/14) but lost one of their three scrums, though they did gain two tightheads and a penalty. The Black Ferns only kicked 10 times in open play – half as much as France – but one of those kicks (a grubber by Ruby Tui) led to Katelyn Vahaakolo’s try. The Black Ferns only made 75% of their tackles (91/121).
Referee Amber McLachlan (17 Tests) has refereed New Zealand on two previous occasions, the Black Ferns victorious against both Canada and Australia in 2022.
Wales were extremely competitive in patches against Canada but fatigued in the second half and were outmuscled in the physical exchanges. Coach Ioan Cunningham conceded.
“We know we have to tighten up on keeping the ball after the performance against Canada and as we showed in Wellington when we do that we can score tries and be competitive against any side.”
With that sentiment in mind, Cunningham has made seven changes and one positional switch for the tussle against the world champions.
The pack will have an edge with hooker Kelsey Jones, who won the Prem15s title with Gloucester-Hartpury, returning at hooker with veteran Donna Rose selected at prop for the first time since facing New Zealand in the last World Cup. In the first Wales-Black Ferns World Cup match in Waitakere last year, Wales scored two tries from lineout drives and won the penalty count 17-8 at one stage reducing the Black Ferns to 13 players due to yellow cards.
The experienced Sioned Harries is back at eight beside the tenacious Alisha Butchers.
The Welsh backline is almost entirely reshuffled. Lleucu George is first-five with new second-five Hannah Bluck partnering with captain Hannah Jones.
Carys Williams-Morris is named on the wing with double Olympian, Jasmine Joyce, moving to from fullback to the other wing to accommodate the selection of rookie Nel Metcalfe, 18, who makes her first start after making her debut off the bench in the 38-18 win over the USA in September.
“We bought a squad of 30 players and the intention was to give as many players as we can the experience of playing against the best teams in the world in WXV1.
“We are excited to see this team face the challenge of playing the world champions in their own backyard. It will be a major challenge but it’s why we are here, and we want to test ourselves against the best,” Cunningham said.
The WRU had 12 players named on full-time contracts in 2022 and a further 17 on six-month deals for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, making them the first female players to represent Wales professionally. This year a group of 25 players were assigned full-time contacts.
In the Six Nations Wales was third, maintaining its position as the strongest country behind perennial contenders England and France. The Welsh beat Ireland (31-5), Scotland (34-22), and Italy (36-10). They were beaten by England (3-59), France (14-39).
Wales have scored 26 tries in 2023 at an average of 3.7 per match. It is their second-best return in a calendar year (37 tries from eight tests in 1998 is their record, although 13 of those came in one match against Russia).
Wales was the most penalised team in the Six Nations, conceding 69 – 33 at the ruck – and received three yellow cards. Wales scored five of their 17 tries from 10+ phases, twice the Championship average. Wales made the fewest offloads (19) and had the slowest average ruck speed in the Women’s Six Nations.
Black Ferns prop Amy Rule observed.
“They’ve had that time together training, which is exciting, and they are an exciting forward pack. They like to do set pieces everywhere, so you don’t know what they are going to throw at you.”
Maia Ross Milestone
Historically players who reach 20 Tests for the Black Ferns have been awarded a pounamu. Maia Ross will accomplish that milestone this weekend and only took three years to get there.
Black Fern 231 debuted in 2021 and last year she was nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year following her immense performances at the Rugby World Cup.
On July 14 Ross became the youngest Black Ferns Test captain at 21 when she led the Black Ferns to a 39-17 victory over the USA. Black Ferns Director of Rugby Allan Bunting is clearly impressed by what Ross has to offer. The Black Ferns Sevens Olympic gold medal-winning mentor said.
“Throughout my time in the Black Ferns, Maia has been exceptional, a true professional both on and off the field and her presence is widely felt. A key member of our leadership group now, her daily habits and actions transition into consistent performance. She is a good human and is always looking out to help others.”
Teams (Caps in Brackets)
Black Ferns: 15. Renee Holmes (14), 14. Ruby Tui (11), 13. Amy du Plessis (12), 12. Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt (11), 11. Mererangi Paul (3), 10. Ruahei Demant (31) (Co-Captain), 9. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (17), 8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u (16), 7. Kennedy Simon (18) (Co-Captain), 6. Layla Sae (1), 5. Chelsea Bremner (16), 4. Maiakawanakaulani Roos (19), 3. Amy Rule (17), 2. Georgia Ponsonby (18), 1. Kate Henwood (2)
Reserves: 16. Luka Connor (18), 17. Krystal Murray (12), 18. Sophie Fisher (0), 19. Alana Bremner (17), 20. Lucy Jenkins (4), 21. Iritana Hohaia (4), 22. Patricia Maliepo (5), 23. Katelyn Vahaakolo (4)
Wales: 15. Nel Metcalfe (1), 14. Jasmine Joyce (33), 13. Hannah Jones (50, Capt), 12. Hannah Bluck (8), 11. Carys Williams-Morris (9), 10. Lleucu George (15), 9. Keira Bevan (55), 8. Sioned Harries (76), 7. Alex Callender (30), 6. Alisha Butchers (41, VC), 5. Kate Williams (7), 4. Abbie Fleming (12), 3. Donna Rose (17), 2. Kelsey Jones (40), 1. Gwenllian Pyrs (29)
Reserves: 16. Kat Evans (5), 17. Abbey Constable (3), 18. Sisilia Tuipulotu (14), 19. Bryonie King (3), 20. Bethan Lewis (40), 21. Meg Davies (5), 22. Robyn Wilkins (67), 23. Meg Webb (12)