At the start of the 2015 season, Charmaine Smith didn't even know what a maul was.

Now the 26-year-old looms as a key figure in the second-row as the Black Ferns seek to annex a fifth Rugby World Cup next month in Ireland.

Her rise has been swift and exponential, having cracked the Blacks Ferns for their 2015 tour of Canada after just five club games for East Coast Bays.

Now the North Harbour Hibiscus lock has 11 test caps under her belt and has formed a solid combination with the seasoned Eloise Blackwell.


"I've been lucky enough to have had world-class coaches from the start who have helped me learn so quickly," says the policewoman, who works shifts on the front-line from her Mt Wellington base.

She has proven a fast learner and her athleticism and ball-winning ability make her a vital cog in the Black Ferns machine, but she wants to master her breakdown technique. All Blacks scrum doctor Mike Cron was offering some help in this regard at the Black Ferns' training camp over the weekend.

Other than Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore, Smith sees Hibiscus coach and former North Harbour No 8 Bill Wigglesworth as a mentor.

"He's the reason I turned to 15s. I originally wanted to just play sevens when I came over from netball three years ago. I wouldn't be here without him and all the extra work he's put in, even if it's just a phone call or looking over footage," Smith says.

Her athleticism and growing ball skills have seen her start three of her 11 tests at blindside flanker, including last month's test against Australia in Christchurch, where she scored a last minute try, her second in internationals.

"I like a run at six. I guess there's more space, but at the same time it's good to go back to lock, which is where I learned to play rugby. The coaches have been really good at helping me fast-forward my six game, but it doesn't change my place in the lineout," she says.

Smith knows the Rugby World Cup schedule will be intense. There will be no room to drop a pool match, so they must cast aside Wales and Hong Kong, which should be a fait accompli, before Canada looms as the big hurdle. But the 2014 Black Ferns may have suffered from a touch of complacency before their clash with Ireland and paid the ultimate price, so Smith is not counting her chickens.

"It would be easy to look ahead to Canada, with them being third in the world, but we just deal with the one in front of us," she says. That is especially so after last month's 29-21 defeat to England in Rotorua, which acted as a "wake-up call" for the pack and where they thought they were at with their set-piece and physicality.

But that important June series will have the Black Ferns, and Smith, ready for World Cup redemption.