Rugby: Black Ferns expect big challenge from Ireland

By Campbell Burnes

Cohesion was at times lacking in the Black Ferns first match since June. Photo / APN
Cohesion was at times lacking in the Black Ferns first match since June. Photo / APN

The Black Ferns are expecting a much sterner test in tomorrow's second Rugby World Cup outing against Ireland near Paris.

The defending champions have taken what they need out of Saturday's 79-5 opening win over Kazakhstan, but know they will have to tidy up certain areas of their game, notably the backline passing and alignment.

Coaches Brian Evans and Grant Hansen have made seven changes to the starting XV as part of their plan to give everyone a run in the first two games. There are two new wings in Honey Hireme and Renee Wickliffe, while the vastly experienced Emma Jensen comes in at halfback.

New Zealand built on a 38-0 halftime lead to run in 13 tries, highlighted by four doubles, against the sizeable but outgunned Kazakhs in sweltering conditions on a pristine surface, dominating in the pack and individually in the backline. But cohesion was at times lacking in their first match since June.

"We're obviously happy with the score, but there's definitely a lot to work on in the backs, with individual skills and combinations," said first-five Kelly Brazier, who chalked up 20 points with two tries and five conversions in her 20th test.

She was a hard self-marker, feeling there was plenty of room for improvement in her own game, around her role as general and "getting the forwards going".

"It was pretty hot out there, but it was better to get rid of the cobwebs earlier rather than later."

Ireland tipped over the USA 23-17 in day one Pool B action.

"Ireland are very physical and forward-oriented, and will be a step up. It should be a good challenge for our pack, which did well at the set-piece against Kazakhstan," said Brazier.

She says the unprecedented four-test June build-up has been most beneficial for the team, and not just in regards to gelling on the field.

"We've never had that kind of preparation before. That's awesome. We got a lot of stuff done. This is a tight-knit group and we got a good culture going."

There has been good media coverage in France. It probably helps that the Tour de France is over and the French Top 14 club season does not kick off until the weekend of the final (August 16-17). Brazier's face is on a billboard along with a handful of players from other teams. "I've been given a bit of grief from the other girls. Every single bus-stop seems to have me featuring. I'm almost more popular than McDonald's."

- NZ Herald

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