Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore has named a 34-player squad for the upcoming tour of England and France, with nearly half the squad in line for their international debut.
The inexperienced side includes 12 debutantes and a further four players whose only experience in the black jersey was last year’s domestic series.
Outside backs Renee Wickliffe and Ayesha Leti-I'iga return from injury and are joined by sevens exponents Portia Woodman, Kelly Brazier and Cheyelle Robins-Reti in an explosive outside backs group.
Moore has shown faith in an exciting group of youngsters, with teens Patricia Maliepo and Liana Mikaele Tu’u selected alongside 20-year-olds Dhys Faleafaga and Maia Roos.
Les Elder returns to captain the side after missing the 2020 season.
“Les is a crucial part of our set up, she’s an outstanding player, leads from the front and has the ability to galvanize people around her," Moore said.
Selection conversations were thrown a curve ball with the latest Covid-19 outbreak forcing a halt to the Farah Palmer Cup which Moore said changed how the selectors looked at assembling the squad.
“The lockdown probably did mean some players weren’t able to cement their positions in the squad and it meant we had to reflect more on the early rounds of Farah Palmer Cup and some of the situational games we’d played in camps this year. This would be one of the most difficult selection processes I can recall in my time in rugby,” Moore said.
“We’ve had to take a Covid mindset to ensure enough coverage across all positions because calling on a replacement is not as easy as it usually would be.”
“With a World Cup just around the corner this programme is critical for us. We’re playing against two the best teams in the world and they’ve come off Six Nations so we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can under these conditions to be prepared,” said Moore.
New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia are still investigating the possibility of an O’Reilly Cup fixture after the original series in New Zealand was cancelled.
Black Ferns squad to tour England and France:
Grace Houpapa-Barrett (26, Waikato, new cap) *
Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate (29, Counties Manukau, 30)
Georgia Ponsonby (21, Canterbury, new cap) *
Tanya Kalounivale (22, Waikato, new cap )*
Aldora Itunu (30, Auckland, 20)
Phillipa Love (31, Canterbury, 11)
Krystal Murray (28, Northland, new cap) *
Aleisha Nelson (31, Auckland, 35)
Amy Rule (21, Canterbury, new cap) *
Eloise Blackwell (30, Auckland, 43) (vc)
Joanah Ngan-Woo (25, Wellington, 3)
Maiakawanakaulani Roos (20, Auckland, new cap) *
Kelsie Wills (28, Bay of Plenty, 0)
Alana Bremner (24, Canterbury, new cap) *
Les Elder (34, Bay of Plenty, 18) (c)
Dhys Faleafaga (20, Wellington, new cap) *
Liana Mikaele-Tu'u (19, Auckland, new cap) *
Kendra Reynolds (28, Bay of Plenty, 0)
Kennedy Simon (24, Waikato, 4)
Ariana Bayler (24, Waikato, new cap) *
Kendra Cocksedge (33, Canterbury, 53) (vc)
Iritana Hohaia (21, Taranaki, new cap) *
Ruahei Demant (26, Auckland, 11)
Patricia Maliepo (18, Auckland, new cap) *
Chelsea Alley (28, Waikato, 24)
Grace Brooker (22, Canterbury, 1)
Stacey Fluhler (25, Waikato, 16)
Carla Hohepa (36, Waikato, 25)
Kelly Brazier (31, Bay of Plenty, 40)
Renee Holmes (21, Waikato, 0)
Ayesha Leti-I'iga (22, Wellington, 9)
Renee Wickliffe (34, Bay of Plenty, 41)
Portia Woodman (30, Northland, 16)
Cheyelle Robins-Reti (22, Waikato, 0)
Unavailable for selection: Charmaine McMenamin, Pia Tapsell, Lisa Molia, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Langi Veainu, Aroha Savage, Toka Natua, Kilisitina Moata’ane.