Thursday, February 22, 2024

Black Ferns gain brains trust

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The Black Ferns are looking to be fighting fit when the Rugby World Cup starts on October 8. Photo All Blacks Experience.

By Ivan Agnew

Wayne Smith, Sir Graham Henry, Wesley Clarke and Whitney Hansen represent a powerful rugby brains trust in coming to the aid of the Black Ferns following controversial head coach Glenn Moore’s resignation.

Moore did the right thing in falling on his sword after being re-appointed coach despite a damning report regarding his alleged behaviour toward players.

With a record of 24 test wins and seven losses since 2015, he enjoyed his fair share of success. However, the wheels fell off on last year’s northern tour when the Ferns were hammered four times by England and France.

That included a 43-12 thrashing from England who had last beaten the Ferns 29-21 in Rotorua in 2017 before the Ferns avenged that 41-32 in the Belfast World Cup final later that year.

With popular Wayne Smith taking over the Director of Coaching role supported by Clarke, Hansen and scrum guru Mick Cron, the Ferns have what should be a strong coaching force unless too many cooks spoil the broth.

South African born Clarke is the husband of Dr Farah Palmer, one of our all-time rugby greats and Hansen is the daughter of our most successful All Black coach, Steve, whose own father Des was also highly regarded as a rugby mentor.

Add the astute Henry, who as a selector is also expected to add coaching input, and the Ferns should be mentally well-prepared for their home World Cup starting on October 8.

However, they will need to improve their strength and set piece ability immensely if they are to tame the English and French who embraced professionalism much earlier. Nor did it help the Ferns’ northern prospects last year that they had not played test rugby since 2019 because of the Covid pandemic.

Still, England and France deserved credit for strengthening all phases of their game, just as the Irish and French men did in mastering the All Blacks forwards.

I am amazed Fijian Drua won only one of eight games in the Australian section of Super Rugby after giving the championship leading Blues a fright and a bruising in their Brisbane clash on Saturday night.

While Blues once again defended superbly, their 35-18 win was flattering against the muscular crowd-pleasing Fijians whose fierce attack demanded it.

In juggernaut Mesu Dolokoto they have a lively hooker with the speed of Dane Coles but with more power.

Blindside flanker Meli Derenalagi is an inspirational captain who won a Sevens gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and Onisi Ratave exhibits pace, power and snappy footwork on the wing where he plays second fiddle to nobody.

Meanwhile with Caleb Clarke halfway through his four-week suspension, AJ Lam is making every post a winner in scoring two grand tries and winning the Man of the Match award.

Especially pleasing is the development of Rieko Ioane, who continues to hit hard in the tackle, is reading the game better at centre and scored a dazzling 70m try from an intercept.

Despite the absence of skipper Dalton Papalii and Akira Ioane, there is no shortage of loose forward depth with tireless Hoskins Sotutu and  Tom Robinson consistently making big contributions.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer

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