Black Ferns goal weapon targets France

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The last time Black Ferns manager Wayne Smith played in a World Cup knockout tie at Eden Park – enduring would probably be more fitting – Stephen Donald’s second-half penalty proved crucial in the All Blacks 8-7 victory over France in the 2011 final.

There’s no escaping the idea that accumulating points via the shoe is crucial in sudden-death matches, and that partly explains Renee Holmes’ selection at full-back for the Black Ferns in their semi-final. against France on the same patch of grass tomorrow.

She is also a specialist full-back, whereas Ruby Tui – back on the wing after a few games back at this World Cup – is not. Given the frequency and accuracy of France’s shooting game, Holmes’ experience at the back may be crucial.

His promotion to the starting lineup, with Tui moving to the right wing and Ayesha Leti-I’iga named on the bench, are the only changes to the side that beat Wales in Whangārei.

But it was Holmes’ kicks in particular that became an important weapon for the Black Ferns – a nice counterpoint, perhaps, to their preference for a messy attack.

Since working with former All Blacks No 10 Dan Carter, still the world’s leading points scorer in the game and who was sadly unable to play that 2011 final after firing a muscle kick groin in training a few weeks prior, Holmes’ kicking game was taken to the next level.

“At first I didn’t see her goal kick much and at first when we started she was pivoting around the ball a bit too much,” Smith said.

“We asked Dan Carter, the best in the world, to work with the girls and he comes every week that we are in Auckland to do a session with them. I like to think I coached Dan Carter in goal but he was the one who coached me, basically.

“He has really improved all of our women and Renée in particular, she is exceptional. She kicked 50 yards in practice the other day, so that’s a skill bonus.

Holmes, on the reserves for the 55-3 quarter-final win over Wales last week, said Carter’s advice had been crucial.

“It was amazing that Dan came,” she said.

“I can say on my heart that my kicking game has changed since coming into this environment. He helped me with little things, he didn’t come and try to change my typing style, he just made little tweaks and used little keywords that actually changed the way I hit.

Dan Carter in a familiar pose - preparing for his final Test rugby kick in the World Cup final victory over the Wallabies at Twickenham in 2015.

“He was able to come in and… all the backs are kicking now. All the girls are on board and every time he comes it’s so precious and you can see the passion he has for women’s rugby.

“We were able to ask him questions about what goes through his mind when he misses a shot and when he is about to take a penalty when he is in front by three. It was actually really pivotal, and I think I took away a lot from what he said. It got me thinking a lot about my own process and what I’m going to do.

Other former All Blacks from a similar era including Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, Ben Smith and Conrad Smith helped the Black Ferns prepare for this World Cup.

“It’s phenomenal to see how eager former players are to help out,” Smith said.

The test will be a clash of styles – the best attack in the world against the best defense in the world – but it’s hard to imagine how the Black Ferns could be better prepared for this moment.

And for traditionalists already excited about the improvement in the Black Ferns’ penalty shootout, there’s more good news regarding their practice for drop goals.

Holmes said: “When you go into the final with footy, you have to be ready for those moments because you don’t know what’s going to happen, so 100% yes. We’ve prepared those drop kicks as well.

The Black Ferns squad that will face France in the World Cup semi-final at Eden Park tomorrow, kick-off at 7:30 p.m., is:

1. Philippe Love

2. Georgia Ponsonby

3. Amy’s Rule

4. Maiakawanakaukani Roos

5.Chelsea Bremner

6. Alana Bremner

7. Sarah Hirini

8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u

9. Kendra Cocksedge

10. Ruahei Demant (co-captain)

11. Portia Woodman

12. Therese Fitzpatrick

13. Stacey Fluhler

14. Ruby Tui

15. Renee Holmes

Reservations:

16. Luka Connor

17. Kristal Murray

18. Santo Taumata

19. Joanah Ngan Woo

20. Kennedy Simon (co-captain)

21. Ariana Bayler

22. Hazel Tubique

23. Ayesha Leti-I’iga

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