Wayne Smith eyeing sevens stars for Black Ferns' World Cup tilt

Source: 1News

Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Tyla Nathan-Wong and Theresa Fitzpatrick have been named in the Black Ferns 15s squad to play Australia in two Tests this month.

Tyla Nathan-Wong makes a break for the Blues against the Matatū during this year's Super Rugby Aupiki.

The pair are good possibilities to make the squad for the World Cup which kicks off in New Zealand in October, with four other Black Ferns Sevens players to train with the side with the potential to also make that squad.

That quartet has not been named by Black Ferns director of rugby Wayne Smith but it’s likely to be sevens skipper Sarah Hirini, Portia Woodman, Stacey Fluhler and Kelly Brazier.

Ruby Tui, an Olympic sevens gold medallist who did not make the Commonwealth Games squad, is already an important part of Smith’s team having starred during the recent Pacific Four series, which the Black Ferns won.

Nathan-Wong, one of three new caps, and Fitzpatrick will be available for the first Test against Australia in Christchurch on August 20 and potentially the return Test at Adelaide Oval a week later, with the other four not available until after the sevens World Cup in South Africa which starts on September 9.

“We’ve got some big decisions to make in that area,” Smith said after announcing his 33-player squad.

“The transition to sevens to 15s isn’t that easy and I know that from my time in the game… it takes a bit of time to get used to the different influences in the game - being more direct, straighter… making more dominant tackles.”

Read more: Black Ferns' attacking weapons make them hottest ticket in town

However, a potential addition of players from the shorter version of the game could help Smith’s side achieve what they believe will be a point of difference at the World Cup.

“[An] off-the-cuff, expansive [game] - we think that’s the way to go against these Northern Hemisphere teams who have great structure, have a great professional set up and are really strong up front," Smith said. "We’re going to have to play some footy to beat them.

“We know they’re quality people and rugby players. Most of them are in the backs. Our role is to assess their potential on the field against our existing players.”

Les Elder and Eloise Blackwell have been left out of the squad, with inside back Ruahei Demant, who led the Black Ferns to their Pacific Four series win in June, to be joined as co-captain for the Wallaroos series by Waikato loose forward Kennedy Simon.

Simon was the 2021 Black Ferns Player of the Year and missed the most recent series with a knee injury but will add plenty of fire power to the O'Reilly Cup squad.

Loose forward Kennedy Simon returns from injury to lead the Black Ferns alongside co-captain Ruahei Demant.

The return of World Cup winners Charmaine McMenamin and Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali adds experience and depth to the Black Ferns squad,” Smith said.

“Charmaine brings a huge work rate and a wise head, and it’s been her form in FPC that clinched her selection. She has recovered from what could have been a career-ending injury, so we’re excited to have her in the team.

“Vic isn’t your ordinary player – she is mercurial. She’s returning after a long layoff and has done incredibly well to get to this point, so having her back in the mix is great.”

The two-match Test series holds special importance to Smith, named after his former coaching mentor and friend Laurie O’Reilly.

“Laurie inspired me to be a coach and I feel really fortunate to have had such a great relationship with him.

“These are Test matches and they are called that for a reason – they test our ability to play under pressure against other world class players. These are incredibly important games from a historic perspective, an emotional one and as a selection tool for the World Cup,” he said.

The Black Ferns Squad is (in brackets; age, Super Club, Province, Test Caps);

Hookers

Luka Connor (25, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty, 6)

Natalie Delamere (25, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, 1)

Georgia Ponsonby (22, Matatū, Canterbury, 5)

Props

Tanya Kalounivale (23, Chiefs, Waikato, 2)

Pip Love (32, Matatū, Canterbury, 17)

Krystal Murray (29, Blues, Northland, 3)

Amy Rule (22, Matatū, Canterbury, 5)

Awhina Tangen-Wainohu (24, Chiefs, Waikato, new cap)

Santo Taumata (19, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty, new cap)

Locks

Chelsea Bremner (27, Matatū, Canterbury, 3)

Joanah Ngan Woo (26, Hurricanes, Wellington, 8)

Maiakawanakaulani Roos (21, Blues, Auckland, 6)

Loose Forwards

Alana Bremner (25, Matatū, Canterbury, 6)

Tafito Lafaele (21, Blues, Auckland, 2)

Charmaine McMenamin (32, Blues, Auckland, 25)

Kaipo Olsen-Baker (19, Hurricanes, Manawatu, 2)

Kendra Reynolds (29, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, 3)

Kennedy Simon (25, Chiefs, Waikato, 8)

Halfbacks

Ariana Bayler (25, Chiefs, Waikato, 4)

Kendra Cocksedge (34, Matatū, Canterbury, 60)

Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (30, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, 8)

Inside Backs

Sylvia Brunt (18, Auckland, 2)

Ruahei Demant (27, Blues, Auckland, 18)

Amy du Plessis (23, Matatū, Canterbury, 2)

Theresa Fitzpatrick (27, Blues, Auckland, 11)

Chelsea Semple (29, Chiefs, Waikato, 28)

Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali (30, Otago, 19)

Hazel Tubic (31, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, 14)

Outside Backs

Renee Holmes (22, Matatū, Waikato, 3)

Ayesha Leti-I'iga (23, Hurricanes, Wellington, 15)

Tyla Nathan-Wong (28, Blues, Northland, new cap)

Grace Steinmetz (24, Matatū, Canterbury, 0)

Ruby Tui (30, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, 2)