As a leader, Les Elder has plenty of inspiration to draw from.

Former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is one of them, as are her own past captains and her rugby mentors that she works with in her role as the women's player development manager at Bay of Plenty Rugby.

But for the 32-year-old Bay of Plenty specialist No7, who made her Black Ferns debut in 2015, it's a woman named Maxine Ketu who has probably had the biggest impact.

Elder, who was this week named the new captain of the Black Ferns squad, describes Ketu - a woman she simply calls mum - as strong, hardworking and loyal, all of which are traits she hopes to have picked up from her that will no doubt put her in good stead for her new role.

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"I find inspiration in different aspects of my life. I don't just look at rugby leaders but I guess you can't look any further than, you know, the man that's sort of set the way for New Zealand Rugby in Richie McCaw, and not that I've had any contact with him but just sort of, you know, I've read his books and watched him over the years and there's a lot of good things you can take away from him," Elder says.

"And then there's just the every day people that I looked up to in my life like my mum and you know my rugby mentors that I work with at Bay Rugby who have had a massive impact on my career," she says.

"My mum's been a huge impact on me just through my whole life. She's a very strong, independent, hard working woman with fierce loyalty and I'd hope that I carry those same traits."

Elder takes over from Fiao'o Faamausili, who retired last year after leading the five-time world champions since 2012, captaining them to two of those titles. When Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore sought a new leader, discussions began with Elder, who accepted the captaincy earlier this year.

Because the appointment has been confidential, Elder hasn't been able to reach out to Faamausili but now that the news it out, she says "it's definitely something I plan to do", and "talk to a few other people that I've been lucky enough to have been captained by".

"There are things you see in your leaders over the years that you learn from and maybe things that I'd adopt but I guess for me, it's just being myself and finding what works for me and my own style."

Elder has plenty of goals for her first season as captain of the new look 2019 Black Ferns squad, which features 10 uncapped players, but her first focus is to help the new players integrate into the team and guide them through what will be a tough four to six weeks in the Women's Rugby Super Series 2019 in San Diego.

"We've obviously got four big test matches coming up in the series in San Diego and we're up against some fierce competition but super excited for the girls to put all their hard work into action over there."

Bay of Plenty specialist number 7 Les Elder is excited for her new role as captain of the Black Ferns

Among those named in the squad are Black Ferns Sevens and Bay of Plenty player Kelly Brazier and fellow Bay athletes Kiritapu Demant, Renee Wickliffe and new caps Luka Connor and Karli Faneva - a player Elder knows from her home town of Taumarunui.

"I used to coach her when she was at high school now, [we're] hopefully playing beside each other."

Elder says the Black Ferns' environment is a supportive one, boosted by sisterhood, which is one of the many things she loves about the sport she fell in love with as a teenager.

It's a sport where players have to have their teammates' back, defend each other, get into tough positions and put their bodies on the line - and she thrives in that environment. Having grown up as the only sister to four brothers, it's no surprise she's fearless on the field.

"I loved that challenge in rugby and I love the sisterhood that came with that, and at the same time, just being the person I am, I absolutely live for the physicality of the game and I just love the contact.

"Mum and Dad raised me no different to the boys so I still had to chop wood, tag sheep and do all the things the boys had to do, so I think it did make me tough.

But it wasn't until Elder was 14 that she found her passion for rugby.

Les Elder in action for the Black Ferns against Hong Kong. Photo / Getty Images
Les Elder in action for the Black Ferns against Hong Kong. Photo / Getty Images

"The first time I'd just walked off the netball court and I walked over to Saturday morning rugby, so I would have been about nine. My brothers were playing and there was a team that needed some players so me and three of my mates just jumped on and we all scored like five tries each or something, it was crazy.

"That was the only time until I was 14, and it wasn't until I was 14 that I actually decided I want to play rugby so I started with the boys at my high school.

"My parents supported me playing any sport, so growing up I played rugby, netball, touch, cricket, basketball and they supported that and then when I chose rugby as the core sport that I wanted to focus on, they were right behind me."

And she's glad she chose the sport she did.

"No regrets."


Bay of Plenty players named in 2019 Black Ferns Squad:
Luka Connor, Les Elder, Karli Faneva, Kelly Brazier, Kiritapu Demant, Renee Wickliffe.


Women's Rugby Super Series 2019 in San Diego, USA:
Black Ferns v Canada, June 29.
Black Ferns v USA, July 3.
Black Ferns v France, July 7.
Black Ferns v England, July 15.

The Black Ferns announce Les Elder as their new captain, Laura catches up with Black Caps players before they leave for the cricket world cup and Daniel Carter and Lydia Ko receive honours at investiture ceremonies.