When Allan Bunting and his coaching team took over at the helm of the Black Ferns this year, they spoke about building towards the next World Cup from the outset.
This year has seen exactly that as new Black Ferns have been capped, new combinations have emerged in key roles, and new minds bringing their thoughts on how to get the best out of the squad.
Now, the inaugural WXV 1 tournament is providing them with their best chance to learn yet.
It began last weekend with the Black Ferns 18-17 loss to France. It was their first loss of the year – and for some players their first loss in a Black Ferns jersey – as the side got their first opportunity to clash against a fully professional programme since Bunting took the reins.
As expected, it offered the side their toughest test of the year so far and gave the side plenty to ponder over the two remaining weeks of the tournament.
“We learned quite a bit. We’ve been working really hard around our set piece and some of our adjustments on defence too and the way we want to play the game. I think the biggest thing for us is around how we use our kicking game a little bit more efficiently,” Bunting said in reflection of the loss.
“We’ve got an amazing forward pack who are going to give a lot of energy, but they can’t keep giving that sort of pace for 80 minutes so we need to give them a bit of a rest and be a bit smarter around that. Our ladies enjoy playing rugby, they enjoy playing tackling rugby, but you just need to be a bit smarter in where we do that and how much we do it.”
The Black Ferns will look to put plans into practice and gather more data on Saturday afternoon against Wales in Dunedin, both sides looking for their first win of the tournament.
World No 6 Wales, who this year increased the number of players on fulltime professional contracts from 12 to 25, pushed No 4-ranked Canada in their first game of WXV 1 rugby, but a couple of late tries and the accuracy off the tee from Sophie de Goede saw the Canadians claim a 44-22 win.
Bunting said after watching the Welsh performance he had an idea of where they might look to attack his side on Saturday afternoon.
“They’re a quality side, aren’t they? They certainly had plenty of opportunities too against a quality Canada side. They’re probably going to kick a bit, they’re going to bring line speed pressure because they would have seen the effect that had on us on the weekend.”
Black Ferns v Wales kick-off, match details
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin. 4pm.
What are the teams for the match?
Black Ferns: Renee Holmes, Ruby Tui, Amy du Plessis, Sylvia Brunt, Mererangi Paul, Ruahei Demant, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, Kennedy Simon, Layla Sae, Chelsea Bremner, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Amy Rule, Georgia Ponsonby, Kate Henwood.
Reserves: Luka Connor, Krystal Murray, Tanya Kalounivale, Alana Bremner, Lucy Jenkins, Iritana Hohaia, Patricia Maliepo, Martha Mataele.
Wales: Nel Metcalfe, Jasmine Joyce, Hannah Jones, Hannah Bluck, Carys Williams-Morris, Lleucu George, Keira Bevan, Sioned Harries, Alex Callender, Alisha Butchers, Kate Williams, Abbie Fleming, Donna Rose, Kelsey Jones, Gwenllian Pyrs.
Reserves: Kat Evans, Abbey Constable, Sisilia Tuipulotu, Bryonie King, Bethan Lewis, Meg Davies, Robyn Wilkins, Meg Webb.
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.
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