Baker eyes Auckland

By Gary Caffell


Rugby

Black Fern Shakira Baker is aiming to play her rugby in Auckland next year.

Baker, 20, has been a prolific scorer for Eketahuna in the Wellington premier grade in recent seasons and has also starred for both Wellington and Manawatu in the national provincial competition.

But providing her final examinations for a marine biology degree, which she is undertaking in Wellington, go well, the powerful midfield back will move to Auckland in 2013 to continue her studies at teachers' college and bid for a place in the Auckland team which has dominated the NPC for the past five years.

"Right now, there are no guarantees where I will be, but if everything works out, it will be Auckland," Baker revealed to the Times-Age yesterday. "It's got benefits for my studies and my rugby, so it's all good."

On the rugby front, Baker will fly to Auckland this Friday to attend a training camp for the Black Ferns squad which is preparing for a three-test series against England, beginning in Surrey on November 23 and moving on to Aldershot on November 28 and London on December 1.

It will be her second visit to England in as many seasons with the Black Ferns, having made her debut last year when England had the better of the world champions.

Baker played in all three tests then, one at wing and the other two at centre, and while she performed well, she admits to being nervous about retaining her place in this year's line-up.

"I thought I had a pretty average NPC, so I certainly wasn't too confident about being there again ... if they went on form, I thought I could struggle."

Baker's own estimation of her NPC performances for fourth-placed Manawatu in 2013 is, however, more to do with her own reluctance to talk herself up than any major decline in standard.

As the star act in the Manawatu backline, she often found herself being shadowed by two defenders, with opposing teams realising that if they could shut her down, then Manawatu's attacking capabilities would be greatly reduced.

Put that to her and Baker concedes she seldom was given the space or time to get up a full head of steam but quickly adds she maybe could have worked harder to be more influential.

"I wasn't altogether happy the way things went. I still feel I could have done better," she said.

Baker is under no illusions about the magnitude of the task confronting the Black Ferns in England, suggesting the home side will be even tougher to beat than last year.

"They'll have taken a lot of confidence from those results and being full-time professionals, they will be all fired up and ready to go," she said. "Physically, they are very strong, they will run at you all day."

Baker, a versatile sportswoman who has also impressed at hockey and athletics, says rugby is now her total sporting focus, with selection in the New Zealand women's sevens squad for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics being a prime objective.

Having already shone for her country in the shorter version of the game, Baker's chances of achieving that goal look bright.

But with more talented players from other sports signalling their intentions to change codes to chase the Olympic dream, she knows competition for the 12 spots will be fierce.

"It's going to be a huge challenge, really huge."

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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