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Three debutants named for Black Ferns in season opener against USA

By Ned Lester
Ruby Tui in the Black Ferns huddle. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand and the USA are set to kick off the 2024 Pacific Four Series in Hamilton this weekend, and Black Ferns coach All Bunting hasn’t been afraid to throw some bright young stars into the matchday 23.

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Three debutants have been named to face the USA, with impressive lock Maama Mo’onia Vaipulu starting alongside Maiakawanakaulani Roos in the second row and Maia Joseph entrusted with the No. 9 jersey. 20-year-old playmaker Hannah King has been named for a debut off the bench, with co-captain Ruahei Demant retaining her the No. 10 jersey.

After breakthrough seasons in Super Rugby Aupiki, the youngsters have continued to impress Bunting and his coaching team in Black Ferns camp, with their selections coming at the expense of some more experienced names.

“Each of these ladies have continued to impress us since joining the Black Ferns squad,” Bunting said.

“They have worked diligently and it’s awesome to be able to reward them with this opportunity and enjoy the occasion. It will be a special moment for them and their wh?nau and one they should be proud of. We are all excited for them and have their backs this weekend.”

It will be the first game of 2024 for the team and the first since their disappointing WXV 1 campaign in 2023, which saw the reigning world champions finish fourth with just one win from their three games.

Bunting said the team were motivated for the occasion and noted the consistency he’d seen in key areas throughout training camp.

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“We have seen consistency in a few areas we have been working through and we are looking forward to seeing this in our opening Test. Our coaching group have been pleased with the intent and focus our squad have been putting in. We know our ladies are eager to kick off their international season and take on the USA in front of our fans at home.”

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Black Ferns team to play USA is (Test caps in brackets)

1. Kate Henwood (4)
2. Georgia Ponsonby (20)
3. Tanya Kalounivale (11)
4. Maiakawanakaulani Roos (21)
5. Maama Mo’onia Vaipulu*
6. Liana Mikaele Tu’u (18)
7. Kennedy Simon (20) (co-captain)
8. Layla Sae (3)
9. Maia Joseph*
10. Ruahei Demant (33) (co-captain)
11. Katelyn Vahaakolo (6)
12. Logo-i-Pulotu Lemapu-Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt (13)
13. Amy du Plessis (14)
14. Ruby Tui (13)
15. Mererangi Paul (5)

Reserves

16. Luka Connor (20)
17. Chryss Viliko (2)
18. Amy Rule (19)
19. Charmaine Smith (29)
20. Kaipo Olsen-Baker (2)
21. Iritana Hohaia (6)
22. Hannah King*
23. Patrica Maliepo (7)

*Denotes Black Ferns debut.

Unavailable: Renee Holmes. 

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Michael 51 minutes ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Cant deny Christie is a good defender, box kicks well at times, BUT he’s a second too slow passing from the ground. Roigard, Ratima and Hotham will be our 2027 halfbacks I believe DMAC has played reasonably well in both games, so deserves to keep his place - his two breaks at Eden Park should have resulted in tries. Reece was really to blame for the Taylor failure - he stayed too wide, if he had come in a couple of meters the pass from Taylor would have worked. The Perofeta failure was extraordinary, he is normally such a good distributor, failure to draw in Steward was remarkable, failure to look inside was a shocker. Cory Flynn as lineout coach… umm something a miss here. Not sure who is calling the lineouts, but clearly we miss Whitelock’s leadership. Having a disfunctional line out really underminded the AB attack. But let’s remind ourselves Itoje is a master, and their tactics of going for the arms of the jumper on landing and pulling over was brilliant causing Paddy and Scooter to both fumble the balls. I am a Blues supporter so I like Talea, but if you play him on the wrong wing look out. While he’s not the fastest wing, he’s elusive and very industrious always looking for work. However, he’s not the tallest player, and everyone knows his weakness (a) being turned in defence - he’s slow to turn and react and (b) never jumps for high balls is normally out jumped. Personally, I find Recce and Talea too alike - Razor needs to couple them with another complementary partner Clark and Narawa respectively. However, for me the real troubling challenge is our mid-field. I am sorry Barrett & Ioane are a poor combo - either Barrett & Proctor or ALB & Ioane - but having two mid-fielders who are poor distributors is nuts. Jordie had a forgettable game in truth he missed so many tackles, which to be fair is unlike him. But sadly both Barrett and Ioane chose to bash first and rarely distribute cleanly.

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