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Where Warren Gatland's Wales are poised to do the most damage

The best single unit in the Wales side is the formidable back row.

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'Ruby (Tui) might be the one that misses out': Pundits debate Black Ferns' outside backs selections

By Ned Lester
Portia Woodman of the Black Ferns ready for action against the Wallaroos at Rugby World Cup 2021.Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

The Black Ferns have put on three dazzling displays of attacking prowess so far this World Cup, while still providing each squad member with the opportunity to stake their claim on their preferred jersey.

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That period of experimentation has now come to an end and head coach Wayne Smith faces the difficult task of selecting his premier side, no easy task with rich talent aplenty, especially in the blockbusting back three.

Fan favourites Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman have put in hugely impressive performances, while the hot-stepping World Cup veteran Renee Wickliffe and young superstar Ayesha Leti-I’iga – who earned Smith’s praise as ‘the best player in the world’ during the Pacific Four Series earlier this year – have also put their best foot forward for consideration on the wings.

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Tui also featured at the fullback position in the Wales test, taking over from Renee Holmes who offers by far the best goal-kicking out of all players in the squad, having nailed multiple sideline conversions already in the tournament.

“She’s easily the best,” Ex-Black Fern Chelsea Semple said of Holmes’ goalkicking ability on Sky’s The Breakdown.

“That’s the massive question I guess because he’s (Wayne Smith) going to want to play Portia, Ayesha and Ruby, but you’re going to have to choose one of those to come on as impact, so who’s it going to be?

“If you want your best goal-kicker on the field, which, if we’re going to be playing France and England, we watched the France and England game, it was tight and it came down to it, it could come down to kicks.”

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Ex-All Black fullback Mils Muliaina agreed it was a difficult choice but kicking had to be prioritised.

“Smithy’s going to have a massive headache picking that,” He said.

“I would say, you’ve got to have Holmes out there, I think you’ve got to have her at the back and Ruby might be the one that actually misses out.

“I mean, when Smithy says you’re the best in the world, he wants the whole team to be the best in the world in that position and that’s what you’re striving for, so when he says that about certain players, he’s picking them to start.”

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Semple continued the discussion, taking into consideration who would make the best impact player late in the game.

“To me, what Ruby offers away from the ball is massive, and it’s that sevens experience of playing in front of a big crowd and just her demeanour on the field, her ability to stay calm, her ability to lift players up if they’re making mistakes is massive when you’ve got a team who’s relatively inexperienced in playing at a World Cup, so I’d have Ruby on the field.

“For me as well, Portia and Ayesha are very similar types of wingers, for a bit of inside knowledge here, looking at GPS data, they both produce the same type of GPS data, I’m talking about the amount of high-speed meters they covered in comparison to the actual distance they cover whereas Ruby Tui as a winger covers a whole lot more distance, she’s not as much a power winger, she’s a working winger.

“So, I wonder if he’s going to have Ruby and Renee on the field and then have either Portia or Ayesha start with one of them coming off as impact because their type of fitness is different, they’re not necessarily 80-minute wingers, they’re absolute powerful beats of wingers who can change a game so having them at either side of the game will be massively beneficial.”

Another ex-All Black winger, Jeff Wilson, offered a different perspective, one that aligns with what the Black Ferns coaches have been saying throughout the tournament, about their playing style being high-paced and displaying the very best of women’s rugby.

Wilson implied he would start the trio with the most firepower, that being Tui at fullback with Leti-I’iga and Woodman on the wings.

“The way he’ll want to win these games is not going to be with goalkicking, he’s going to try and blow teams off the park.”

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