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Black Ferns name six debutants for first Test since becoming World Champions

By Kim Ekin
Tenika Willison, Katelyn Vahaakolo, Kate Henwood and Kennedy Simon look on during the New Zealand Black Ferns Pacific Four Series & O'Reilly Cup Squad Announcement at Hamilton Girls' High School on June 07, 2023 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

An eagerly anticipated return for the Black Ferns is almost over, with the team primed and ready to kick-off their first Test match of the Pacific Four Series and O’Reilly Cup against the Wallaroos.


Black Ferns Director of Rugby Allan Bunting and his assistant coaches have named an exciting 23 to open their Test season at Dolphins Stadium, in Brisbane, kicking-off at 7.00pm (AEST), 9.00pm (NZT) on Thursday (29 June).

With the start of a new era for the Black Ferns, six debutants have been named in the Black Ferns first Test of 2023.

Bay of Plenty loosehead prop Kate Henwood, former New Zealand Rugby League representative Katelyn Vahaakolo and Chiefs Manawa standout Mererangi Paul have been named in the starting XV.

Hurricanes Poua halfback Iritana Hohaia, Matatu first five-eighth Rosie Kelly and Black Ferns Sevens player Tenika Willison are also in-line to make their Test debuts off the bench.

Bunting congratulated the debutants on their selection.

“Each of these ladies have been impressive on and off the field and now have the opportunity to represent their country, it will be a special occasion for them and their wh?nau and one they should be proud of. We are all excited for them and looking forward seeing how they go.”

A powerful forward pack will see Henwood combine with starting hooker Georgia Ponsonby and tighthead Tanya Kalounivale. The formidable Rugby World Cup locking duo of Maiakawanakaulani Roos and Chelsea Bremner will complete the tight five.


Alana Bremner will start at blindside, with Black Ferns Co-Captain Kennedy Simon named at openside and Liana Mikaele Tu’u at No.8 completing an experienced forward pack.

In the backs, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and Black Ferns co-Captain Ruahei Demant have been named as the starting halves combination. Sylvia Brunt and Amy du Plessis will cover the midfield at second-five and centre respectively. The back three will see Vahaakolo and Paul on the wings, with Renee Holmes named at fullback.

In the reserves, an experienced replacement front row of Luka Connor, Krystal Murray and Amy Rule will be a force off the bench. While lock Joanah Ngan Woo and loose forward Kendra Reynolds will inject plenty of energy in the forward pack.

An energetic trio of Hohaia, Kelly and Willison will be eager to impress off the bench and embrace the opportunity in the black jersey.


Bunting said that he believes the fresh looking 23 selected are energised to kick-off their first Test of the year.

“Although our time together has been short in my eyes, we have maximised our connection and foundations for our game this year and we are looking forward to seeing how we shape up for this week’s Test against the Wallaroos.

“It marks a new dawn for the Black Ferns as we not only kick off our 2023 campaign but begin building to the next Rugby World Cup. Our coaching team have selected an exciting team, that we believe can go out there and play our style of game with freedom.”

Black Ferns team to face Wallaroos:

1. Kate Henwood*
2. Georgia Ponsonby (13)
3. Tanya Kalounivale (6)
4. Maiakawanakaulani Roos (14)
5. Chelsea Bremner (12)
6. Alana Bremner (13)
7. Kennedy Simon (13) (Co-Captain)
8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u (11)
9. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (12)
10. Ruahei Demant (26) (Co-Captain)
11. Katelyn Vahaakolo*
12. Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt (7)
13. Amy du Plessis (7)
14. Mererangi Paul*
15. Renee Holmes (10)

16. Luka Connor (14)
17. Krystal Murray (9)
18. Amy Rule (12)
19. Joanah Ngan Woo (17)
20. Kendra Reynolds (13)
21. Iritana Hohaia*
22. Rosie Kelly*
23. Tenika Willison*

*denotes Black Ferns debut




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1 Comment
Pecos 391 days ago

Lots of rugby intelligence & experience missing in the untested backline with Cocksedge, Fitzpatrick, Fluhler, Woodman, Tui absent. Even Holmes is still developing her craft at #15. Potentially the weakest & most vulnerable backline unit we've put out (at least on paper) in a long time. The forwards look solid enough though why Cutter is benched is puzzling. The Wallaroos will fancy their chances for a first ever win.

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