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Maia Roos interview: Becoming the youngest-ever Black Ferns Test captain

By Adam Julian
Maia Roos poses for a portrait during a Black Ferns Portrait Session at Millenium Institute on June 14, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images for New Zealand Rugby)

Maia Roos was born in Utah but migrated to New Zealand in 2009 when she was seven years old. Her mother Tia, from the Cook Islands, is a senior lecturer at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), and her father Kevin a biomedical engineer.

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On Sunday Roos will become the youngest-ever Black Ferns Test captain, replacing Dame Farah Palmer, when she leads New Zealand against the USA in the final match of the Pac Four Series in Ottawa, aged 21 years, 11 months and 17 days. Roos can hardly believe it.

“It’s crazy. Farah Palmer is a legend of the game internationally. We play in the Farah Palmer Cup so to be alongside her is crazy,” Roos said.

“It’s special, a really huge honour. To capture the moment, I told my parents on video, that’s special too.”

“I captained my First XV at school, a bit of club rugby, but I don’t see myself as a captain, but I will lead how I lead and play how I play. I just go hard. I don’t know if that’s inspiring to anyone, but if it is that’s what I’ve got to offer.”

Black Ferns Director of Rugby Alan Bunting is clearly impressed by what Ross has to offer. The Black Ferns Sevens Olympic gold medal-winning mentor said.

“Throughout my time in the Black Ferns, Maia has been exceptional, a true professional both on and off the field and her presence is widely felt. A key member of our leadership group now, her daily habits and actions transition into consistent performance. She is a good human and is always looking out to help others. We have great confidence in her captaining the Black Ferns on Friday.”

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Roos appeared overwhelmed at the press conference that publicly announced her captaincy, but her background suggests she’s well-versed in leadership.

Alongside fellow Black Fern, Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, Roos still spends a lot of time at Tamaki College as a ‘community angel’ assisting troubled kids.

“Connecting with others was the point of difference I offered when I was head girl at T?maki College. I wasn’t the best academic or sportswoman, but I was involved in a lot of things. Liana and I go back to school to help out and provide a non-judgmental space for those who might be struggling,” Roos said in 2021.

Roos has far from struggled since becoming a Black Fern. In 2022 she was nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year following her immense performances at the World Cup.

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Roos was good enough to usurp Joanah Ngan-Woo as starting lock despite Ngan-Woo being the only Black Fern alongside Chelsea Bremner to feature in every test in the groundbreaking season.

At the World Cup Ross ranked second top Black Ferns tackler, topping the count in individual matches three times. Additionally, she was a plentiful source of lineout possession and a bustling ball carrier.

After 32 minutes off the bench in the first match against Australia, she topped the tackle count and scored tries in the 56-12 and 57-0 group victories against Wales and Scotland respectively. In the Scottish match, she also topped the carry count with 16.

She reserved her best performance for the 25-24 win over France in the semi-final. Again, she topped the tackle count with 12 and made 11 carries for a gain of 77 meters against the best defensive team in the tournament. Stuff NZ waxed lyrical:

“Enormous tackle on France number nine Pauline Bourdon saved a certain try in the opening stages – and that was just the start of her big night. Roos has been a Retallick-style figure in this Rugby World Cup and played the full 80 minutes in the semifinal. ”

Roos said afterward, “I never dreamt of a game like that, and we were lucky enough to be on the happy side of it. I was right in front of the posts when Caroline Drouin took the kick. If it bounces off the pole, I’m going to run hard. If she gets it, we’re going to go hard for the kick-off and score a try. We knew we had to rumble to the end.

“Sometimes our training is harder than the games. That really helps us remain calm under pressure. I’m proud of us for hanging on and staying together.”

Roos first played rugby in a mixed team at Glen Taylor intermediate school, but it wasn’t until she arrived at T?maki College that rugby became serious. She came under the tutelage of former Black Ferns prop Doris Taufateau, then in Year 12, she played for College Rifles and in 2019 was picked by another Black Fern Anna Richards to represent Auckland.

On the disastrous Northern Tour of 2021 where the Black Ferns lost all four tests to England and France, she was one of the few bright spots.

“Even though we lost to England, I felt more ready to play that game than any other I’ve played before. I was able to express myself in the small opportunity I got. France was a very challenging side, but I felt we got better as the tour went on. We needed to do better defending mauls, stop them with one fluid motion and good timing.”

Roos was in imperious form in the Pacific Four Series in June 2022. She made a telling break in the first Test against Australia which helped set up a try to make the score 15-10 to the Black Ferns, Australia didn’t score again. She played the entire 80 minutes in the next game against Canada too.

Roos will lead a side that features 11 changes from the side that beat Canada 52-21 last Sunday.

In other changes, Waikato loosehead prop Esther Faiaoga-Tilo and Counties Manukau hooker Grace Gago will start on debut for the Black Ferns, alongside Canterbury tighthead Amy Rule.

Joanah Ngan-Woo returns to join Roos as the starting locking duo. Following an impressive debut Canterbury’s Lucy Jenkins and Bay of Plenty loose forward Kendra Reynolds will start at six and seven respectively, while the formidable Liana Mikaele-Tu’u once again starts at number eight.

In the backs, Taranaki’s Iritana Hohaia and Canterbury’s Rosie Kelly earn their first start at nine and ten respectively. Midfielder Grace Brooker makes her long-awaited return to the Black Ferns jersey, starting alongside last weekend’s player of the match Amy du Plessis. A talented back three of Grace Steinmetz, Kelsey Teneti, and Tenika Willison will round out the starting fifteen.

Alan Bunting said, “As a team it is important, we continue to build our depth and our game foundations. I’m really proud of the growth in our group and after a tough travel week how our ladies fronted and responded to challenges, there is still a lot we can build on, good things take time.”

The Black Ferns have beaten the USA a dozen times in 13 Tests. The USA has lost to Canada (17-50) and Australia (17-58) in their opening Pac4 fixtures.

The Black Ferns against USA kicks off at TD Place Stadium at 8:00 am (NZT). At 21 years, 11 months and 17 days old Maia Roos will lead the charge.

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Turlough 59 minutes ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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