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12 debutants named in 34-player Black Ferns squad

By Online Editors

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Almost half the squad named today will be in line for their international debut next month, with 12 debutants and a further four players whose only experience in the black jersey was last year’s domestic series.

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Outside backs Renee Wickliffe and Ayesha Leti-I’iga return from injury and are joined by sevens exponents Portia Woodman, Kelly Brazier and Cheyelle Robins-Reti in an explosive outside backs group.

Moore has shown faith in an exciting group of youngsters, with teens Patricia Maliepo and Liana Mikaele Tu’u selected alongside 20-year-olds Dhys Faleafaga and Maia Roos.

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The First Year inside the Black Ferns

Les Elder returns to captain the side after missing the 2020 season.

“Les is a crucial part of our set up, she’s an outstanding player, leads from the front and has the ability to galvanize people around her. Ella (Blackwell) did a great job last year when we had the domestic hit out, she and Kendra are named as vice captains, and I’m confident this leadership group will do an outstanding job,” said Moore.

Selection conversations were thrown a curve ball with the latest Covid 19 outbreak forcing a halt to the Bunnings Warehouse Farah Palmer Cup which Moore said changed how the selectors looked at assembling the squad.

“The lockdown probably did mean some players weren’t able to cement their positions in the squad and it meant we had to reflect more on the early rounds of Farah Palmer Cup and some of the situational games we’d played in camps this year. This would be one of the most difficult selection processes I can recall in my time in rugby,” said Moore.

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“We’ve had to take a Covid mindset to ensure enough coverage across all positions because calling on a replacement is not as easy as it usually would be.”

“With a World Cup just around the corner this programme is critical for us. We’re playing against two the best teams in the world and they’ve come off Six Nations so we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can under these conditions to be prepared,” said Moore.

New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia are still investigating the possibility of an O’Reilly Cup fixture after the original series in New Zealand was cancelled.

Squad breakdown
The Black Ferns squad is made up of 19 forwards (three hookers, six props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 15 backs (three halfbacks, two first five–eighths, four midfielders, and six outside backs).

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The squad represents eight of New Zealand’s provincial unions, with nine Waikato players, seven from Auckland, six from Canterbury, five from Bay of Plenty, three from Wellington, two from Northland and one each from Counties Manukau and Taranaki.

The squad has an average age of 26, a total of 399 caps experience. Halfback Kendra Cocksedge has the potential to become the most capped Black Ferns player of all time on this tour, surpassing Fiao’o Faamausili.

Black Fern debutants

Ariana Bayler
Born: 14 December 1996
Position: Halfback
Waikato halfback Ariana Bayler’s journey to the Black Ferns has been one of persistence, the talented youngster suffering three ACL injuries in her career to date. The former Hamilton Girls’ High School student made her Farah Palmer Cup debut as a 16-year-old and has been a key member of the resurgent Waikato team in recent years.

Alana Bremner
Born: 10 February 1997
Position: Loose Forward
The 23-year-old Canterbury captain had a breakthrough season in 2020, leading her side to their fourth consecutive Farah Palmer Cup title and bagging eight tries to be their top try scorer for the season. She was the first women’s player to notch up 50 matches for Lincoln University, and earlier this year brought up 50 caps for Canterbury. In 2019, she played three matches for the New Zealand Development side and in 2020, captained the NZ Barbarians in the two-match series against the Black Ferns. Her older sister, Chelsea, made her Black Ferns debut last year.

Dhys Faleafaga
Born: 17 October 2000
Position: Loose Forward
Dhys Faleafaga made a name for herself at high school, starting for the St Mary’s College 1st XV which won the national title in 2017. She was called into the Black Ferns Sevens squad as an injury replacement in 2019 and made her debut in Kitakyushu, Japan. While injury has hampered her progress in the game she has made every opportunity count, impressing for Wellington in the Farah Palmer Cup and in her time with the Black Ferns Sevens.

Iritana Hohaia
Born: 1 March 2000
Position: Halfback
Iritana Hohaia hails from ?punake in Taranaki and began playing club rugby at Coastal as a child. Having also played representative basketball, Hohaia was a member of the gold medal winning New Zealand Sevens team at the Youth Olympics in 2018, scoring a try in the Final victory over France. Hohaia was Taranaki Whio’s Player of the Year in 2019.

Grace Houpapa-Barrett
Born: 25 July 1995
Position: Hooker
Grace Houpapa-Barrett made her provincial debut for Waikato as a teenager in 2014. She has played all three front row positions across six seasons. Houpapa-Barrett was named in the Barbarians team in 2020, played in the inaugural women’s Super Rugby match for the Chiefs and in 2021 captained her club Otorohanga.

Tanya Kalounivale
Born: 20 January 1999
Position: Prop
Tanya Kalounivale was born and raised in Fiji, moving to New Zealand after completing her schooling. The powerful front rower had an impressive season for Waikato and was named in the Black Ferns squad in 2020 but did not play due to injury.

Patricia Maliepo
Born: 13 March 2003
Position: First Five-eighths
Patricia Maliepo burst onto the Farah Palmer Cup scene as a 16-year-old in 2019 and immediately impressed with her skillset and vision. Having played both first five-eighths and fullback at domestic level, Maliepo was a standout player for the NZ Barbarians in 2020 and starred for the Blues in the inaugural women’s Super Rugby match.

Liana Mikaele-Tu’u
Born: 2 March 2002
Position: Loose Forward
Liana Mikaele-Tu’u made her debut in the Farah Palmer Cup for Hawke’s Bay while still at Hastings Girls High School. The teenager moved to Auckland for university and continued to rise in the ranks, playing for Auckland and in the first ever Blues women’s team. She is the younger sister of Highlanders loose forward Marino Mikaele-Tu’u.

Krystal Murray
Born: 16 June 1993
Position: Prop
Krystal Murray’s selection in the Black Ferns will see her become a double international, having previously played for the Kiwi Ferns including playing at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Murray has played at both prop and number 8 for Northland and is the Union’s top women’s point scorer. She is leading try scorer in the 2021 Farah Palmer Cup.

Georgia Ponsonby
Born: 14 December 1999
Position: Hooker
Georgia Ponsonby debuted for Manawat? in the Farah Palmer Cup in 2017, her last year at Feilding High School. Ponsonby moved to Christchurch to attend Lincoln University and has been a part of the Canterbury Farah Palmer Cup for their past three championships. Originally a number 8, Ponsonby has only recently moved to the front row and immediately impressed.

Maiakawanakaulani Roos
Born: 27 July 2001
Position: Lock
Auckland youngster Maia Roos has quickly risen through the rugby ranks, debuting for the Auckland Storm in 2019 and forming a strong partnership in the middle row with Eloise Blackwell. Roos was Head Girl at Tamaki College, she played two matches for the NZ Barbarians in 2020 and was part of the inaugural Blues women’s team.

Amy Rule
Born: 15 July 2000
Position: Prop
Amy Rule only started playing rugby in her last two years at Central Southland College, but has quickly proved to be a talent in the front row. Rule moved to Christchurch for university in 2019 and cemented her place as the starting tighthead prop in the championship winning Farah Palmer Cup team before gaining selection in the Black Ferns Development team for their campaign in Fiji.

Black Ferns full squad

Hookers
Grace Houpapa-Barrett (26, Waikato, new cap)
Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate (29, Counties Manukau, 30)
Georgia Ponsonby (21, Canterbury, new cap)

Props
Tanya Kalounivale (22, Waikato, new cap)
Aldora Itunu (30, Auckland, 20)
Phillipa Love (31, Canterbury, 11)
Krystal Murray (28, Northland, new cap)
Aleisha Nelson (31, Auckland, 35)
Amy Rule (21, Canterbury, new cap)

Locks
Eloise Blackwell (30, Auckland, 43) – Vice Captain
Joanah Ngan-Woo (25, Wellington, 3)
Maiakawanakaulani Roos (20, Auckland, new cap)
Kelsie Wills (28, Bay of Plenty, 0)

Loose Forwards
Alana Bremner (24, Canterbury, new cap)
Les Elder (34, Bay of Plenty, 18) – Captain
Dhys Faleafaga (20, Wellington, new cap)
Liana Mikaele-Tu’u (19, Auckland, new cap)
Kendra Reynolds (28, Bay of Plenty, 0)
Kennedy Simon (24, Waikato, 4)

Halfbacks
Ariana Bayler (24, Waikato, new cap)
Kendra Cocksedge (33, Canterbury, 53) – Vice Captain
Iritana Hohaia (21, Taranaki, new cap)

First five-eighths
Ruahei Demant (26, Auckland, 11)
Patricia Maliepo (18, Auckland, new cap)

Midfield
Chelsea Alley (28, Waikato, 24)
Grace Brooker (22, Canterbury, 1)
Stacey Fluhler (25, Waikato, 16)
Carla Hohepa (36, Waikato, 25)

Outside Backs
Kelly Brazier (31, Bay of Plenty, 40)
Renee Holmes (21, Waikato, 0)
Ayesha Leti-I’iga (22, Wellington, 9)
Renee Wickliffe (34, Bay of Plenty, 41)
Portia Woodman (30, Northland, 16)
Cheyelle Robins-Reti (22, Waikato, 0)

Unavailable for selection: Charmaine McMenamin, Pia Tapsell, Lisa Molia, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Langi Veainu, Aroha Savage, Toka Natua, Kilisitina Moata’ane.

Black Ferns End of Year Tests
Weekend of 30/31 October
Black Ferns v England

Weekend of 6/7 November
Black Ferns v England

Saturday 13 November
Black Ferns v France
3pm, Stade du Hameau, Pau

Saturday 20 November
Black Ferns v France
3pm, Stade Pierre-Fabre, Castres

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12 debutants named in 34-player Black Ferns squad

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