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'One of the great experiences of my life': Smith 'proud' after RWC triumph

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The Black Ferns’ World Cup triumph is an incredible story of redemption and resilience, as the team dared to dream under the brilliant tutelage of rugby guru Wayne Smith.

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Smith, who won two World Cups with the All Blacks as an assistant coach, has undoubtedly cemented his legacy as one of the greatest rugby minds of all time after last night’s thrilling final.

When Smith was named as the new head coach of the Black Ferns in April, he faced an almighty challenge six-months out from a World Cup on home soil.

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The Black Ferns had visited England and France on their end-of-season tour the November before, where they lost all four Test matches by emphatic margins.

New Zealand were beaten 43-12 in Exeter by the Red Roses, before losing again the week after 56-15 in Northampton – they faced an incredible challenge ahead of the sports premier event.

After years of dominance England had asserted their dominance over women’s rugby and appeared to be clear favourites to win the World Cup, while the form guide didn’t exactly favour New Zealand.

But with super coach Smith at the helm, the Black Ferns exceeded expectations to not only qualify for the final, but to defend their title.

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A record-breaking attendance record of 42,579 packed the stands at New Zealand’s home of rugby for the decider, which Smith later described as “one of the great experiences of my life.”

“I was the head coach of the Crusaders. We were up here and won in ’98 against all odds against the champion Blues team. No one gave us a chance, I don’t think many people gave us a chance today,” Smith told reporters after the 34-31 win.

“This will go down as one of the great experiences of my life, like I love these women, I love what they’ve had to do to get there.

“I’ve got a great group of coaches here and everything they put into it these women buy into, and they go out and they provide it on the field.

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“Whether we’re up or down they keep being true to what we’re trying to do. It’s not just me, I’ve got great coaches, I’ve got great girls.

“This is one of the great experiences of my life.”

While the World Cup proved to be a ground-breaking tournament for women’s rugby, what the Black Ferns did to inspire the country of New Zealand will be felt for years to come.

Playing in their World Cup opener against traditional rivals Australia at Eden Park, the women in black were spurred on to a famous win by a passionate and vocal kiwi crowd.

After scoring 209 points in their first four matches, the Black Ferns faced their toughest test of the cup so far against France.

But by this stage of the tournament, if it wasn’t already, the stadium of five million was in full voice – with the Black Ferns sneaking into the final by one-point after a thrilling Test.

The final was another back-and-forth clash against World No. 1 England, but the hosts managed to hang on to win 34-31.

The team had revolutionised their game under super coach Smith, and hoisted the World Cup in triumph in front of more than 40,000 passionate supporters – a feat which seemed unlikely last November.

“I said to the team this morning I love them, I’m proud of them, I’ve never been more proud of a team,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day I didn’t really care today win or lose, it’s better to win than lose but we just wanted to go out there and play and be true to our DNA and what we’ve been trying to do.

“I’m not going to stay involved but I’ll be following these women for the rest of their careers. It’s not just the 23 that ended up on the field today, we have some I think global superstars in the other nine.

“Honestly there are so many good kids coming through in women’s rugby that it’s unbelievable, and I just think the futures great. I’m going to be following them but from a different position.”

Co-captain Ruahei Demant said Smith has helped give the playing group the “courage to play different” since he’s taken over as head coach.

“I actually remember the first camp Smithy came to, and I think the first night of the first camp we had a kicking strat session and it was the complete opposite to what I had individual been told,” Demant said.

“I remember when Smithy introduced himself to us and he said that he’s never followed the heard, and he always does things differently and that’s exactly the type of coach he is.

“I think the hardest challenge for us as players wasn’t the skill stuff, it was the mindset stuff. He challenged us.

“He definitely doesn’t do things by the book so that’s the greatest influence that Smithy has had on our team and the players that they selected throughout all our campaigns this year have shown that courage, the courage to play different.”

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