Written by Max Sharp
With the Black Ferns' previous Head Coach, Glenn Moore, having resigned after coaching the team from 2015-21; Wayne Smith has become the first All Blacks coach to also coach the Black Ferns.
Smith, known for winning the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, as an assistant, has taken a no-holds-barred approach to selection, having based his picks off form first and foremost. Veterans Renee Wickliffe (43 test caps), Eloise Blackwell (46 test caps) and 2021 captain Les Elder, who is currently nursing an injury, have all been omitted from the squad.
In this article we'll break down the squad, by position, to have a look at what the 2022 Black Ferns season will have in store!
Luka Connor (25, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty, 4 tests)
Natalie Delamere (25, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, uncapped)
Georgia Ponsonby (22, Matatū, Canterbury, 2 tests)
The three hookers may lack in experience, but not in ability. Luka Connor, one of the best-performing players in Super Rugby Aupiki, has a long career ahead of her aged just 25, while she'll be a certainty to start. Georgia Ponsonby and Natalie Delamere functioned well as a one-two-punch for Matatū, look for both of them to carry their natural talent into test rugby; Ponsonby has already done so twice.
Lucy Anderson (30, Matatū, Canterbury, uncapped)
Tanya Kalounivale (23, Chiefs, Waikato, uncapped)
Pip Love (32, Matatū, Canterbury, 15 tests)
Angel Mulu (22, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty, uncapped)
Krystal Murray (28, Blues, Northland, 1 test)
Leilani Perese (29, Counties Manukau, 11 tests)
Amy Rule (21, Matatū, Canterbury, 3 tests)
Whilst it seems a bit of a gamble to select Lucy Anderson, who has yet to play a test aged 30, she has been in the Black Ferns' camp before, so she's well overdue for a test debut. Look to see Krystal Murray's boot feature in some games as well, it's always entertaining to see a prop kick the goals. Amy Rule, Angel Mulu and Tanya Kalounivale are all highly promising prospects, so keep an eye on them. Don't be surprised to see Pip Love and Leilani Perese starting, their strength and experience will be crucial to the team at set piece.
Chelsea Bremner (27, Matatū, Canterbury, uncapped)
Joanah Ngan-Woo (26, Hurricanes, Wellington, 5 tests)
Maiakawanakaulani Roos (20, Blues, Auckland, 3 tests)
This is one area that's looking a bit thin. Chelsea Bremner's sporting career began with netball; she shifted to rugby in 2015 and was playing for Canterbury just one year later. A well-deserved test cap awaits, Bremner has played against the NZ Barbarians for the Black Ferns before. Joanah Ngan-Woo was an obvious choice for selection, while Maia Roos has a sky's the limit level of potential. The selection of just 3 players in this position though, could be concerning, especially with Eloise Blackwell's exclusion from the team, to go with injury to Kelsie Wills.
Alana Bremner (25, Matatū, Canterbury, 3 tests)
Tafito Lafaele (21, Blues, Auckland, uncapped)
Liana Mikaele Tu'u (20, Blues, Auckland, 4 tests)
Kaipo Olsen-Baker (19, Hurricanes, Manawatu, uncapped)
Kendra Reynolds (29, Matatū, Bay of Plenty, 1 test)
Kennedy Simon and Les Elder are both injured, so we'll be seeing a very new-look loose forward set up. Liana Mikaele-Tu'u has remained in the team after a breakout season in 2021, while fellow youngsters Tafito Lafaele and Kaipo Olsen-Baker have been called up for well-deserved debuts. Lafaele's ability to cover lock may see her get a lot of game time for utility value, whilst Olsen-Baker's raw power is un-coachable. Kendra Reynolds will likely slot into the 7 jersey in Elder's absence, while Alana Bremner is a Black Ferns captain-in-waiting.
Ariana Bayler (25, Chiefs, Waikato, 4 tests)
Kendra Cocksedge (33, Matatū, Canterbury, 57 tests)
Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu (30, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, 6 tests)
It's a real joy to see Ariana Bayler picked; she's had a horrid run of injuries. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu is no stranger to international sports, having already gained 6 test caps since her debut in 2019, Marino-Tauhinu has also played rugby league to an international level. Kendra Cocksedge, at 33 years old, will be crucial to the team's functioning, she is the only current player with 30+ test caps. Cocksedge is the most-capped Black Fern of all time and will be looking forward to extending her record even further.
Ruahei Demant (27, Blues, Auckland, 15 tests) – Captain
Amy du Plessis (22, Matatū, Canterbury, uncapped)
Carla Hohepa (36, Chiefs, Waikato, 28 tests)
Patricia Maliepo (19, Blues, Auckland, 3 tests)
Chelsea Semple (29, Chiefs, Waikato, 26 tests)
With Grace Brooker missing out on selection due to injury, it'll be very exciting to see Amy Du Plessis get a test debut. Hohepa, the oldest player in the Black Ferns squad, will be relied on for experience in a similar way to Cocksedge and Love, looking to finish her career on a high note. Chelsea Semple didn't appear in career-best form in Super Rugby Aupiki, but will look to assert her experience as well.
The first-fives are Patricia Maliepo, who has potential to become one of the greatest players of all time and Ruahei Demant. Demant, who grew up in the small town of Omaio, has leadership that has long-been apparent since her test debut against Australia in 2018. Congratulations to her on being selected as the Black Ferns' skipper for the first time in her career.
Renee Holmes (22, Matatū, Waikato, 1 test)
Ayesha Leti-I'iga (23, Hurricanes, Wellington, 12 tests)
Cheyelle Robins-Reti (25, Hurricanes, Waikato, 3 tests)
Grace Steinmetz (24, Matatū, Canterbury, uncapped)
Ruby Tui (30, Chiefs, Counties Manukau, uncapped)
The outside backs contingent has some mouth-watering potential. There's a fair bit of x-factor here to excite the casual viewer, but the biggest talking point is undoubtedly the fact that after tearing it up at Rugby 7s for a long time, Ruby Tui will finally make her test debut at 15s. Grace Steinmetz, the niece of former All Blacks second-five Paul Steinmetz, will have pace to burn on debut, whilst Ayesha Leti-I'iga offers some real power out wide. Her Hurricanes teammate Cheyelle Robins-Reti, who debuted in 2021, will transfer her potency from 7s to 15s as well. Renee Holmes at 15 to complete the backline? Sounds good, Holmes is a true all-round athlete.
A Black Ferns side with these players contains a lot of natural talent, but the best thing is that there will also be the precision at set-piece to compliment the all-round skill. With Wayne Smith as the Head Coach, the team will be far better than in 2021, Smith is one of the greatest coaches in the game's history.
Despite record losses to England and France, who are currently the favourites to win the World Cup, the Black Ferns will shake off the self-doubt and rise to the challenge. I have no doubt that they'll be able to scramble their way back into the championed machine we've come to know them as.