It took a while to mix the ingredients for their 28-0 Test victory over Canada, but it was worth the wait - the Black Ferns creating a bubbly, intoxicating brew which may serve to settle a few nerves about their chances in the upcoming World Cup in New Zealand.
After their pack exposed the Canadians in the first half of the Pacific Four Series Test at Waitakere’s Trusts Arena with a powerful performance, a continuation of their exploits against Australia in Tauranga six days earlier, their backs, sparked by right wing Ruby Tui, cut loose in the second half.
Tui began the fun with a chip and chase over the last defender to score in the right corner, and finished it with a breakout try on the left. In between, replacement loose forward Chelsea Bremner and irrepressible left wing Ayesha Leti-I’iga scored to leave the home support very satisfied indeed.
As head coach Wayne Smith reflected on the victory afterwards, 1News asked him about Tui’s X-factor and her importance to the team.
“Man, our wingers are world class aren’t they?,” Smith replied. “Ayesh isn’t bad either. They’re phenomenal, so you can see why we want to play some rugby because you’ve got to use your great players. Pretty special.
“Ruby hasn’t played a lot of 15s either – it’s incredible how she picks things up. She’s been working on that kick for three weeks – on body angle, how to get it up and down - and to do it under pressure, man she’s special.
“They’re a team that want to attack so it doesn’t take a lot of pushing from me.”
This is why the Black Ferns attempted the near impossible in the atrocious weather conditions in Tauranga and ran the ball at every opportunity in the first half before they tempered their ambition after the break to overrun the Wallaroos 23-10.
The pace, intuition and handling skills possessed by their backs is the Black Ferns’ greatest strength. That they are determined to make use of it will ensure that their World Cup Tests, starting against Australia at Eden Park on October 8, will be entertaining no matter their outcomes.
But their greater ability to match teams up front after their disastrous tour against the big nations of England and France late last year also bodes well. Their set piece was rock solid against Canada, despite the yellow cards to prop Tanya Kalounivale and No.8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker, with the variations off the lineout, inspired by assistant coach Whitney Hansen, not only tidy but occasionally lethal.
Tui said: “To be honest, me and Ayesh may have got a couple of tries but man the work in the middle – I was watching from the back a couple of times and all our forwards are stepping up and all our bench players are stepping up. I couldn’t tell you who the starting 23 would be right now.”
Tui, who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, was also integral in killing a threatening Canada maul on her own tryline minutes after her opening try.
“We’re all involved in everything,” she said. “We’ve done lots of work on mauls as a team. I played as a flanker for a while there [after the yellow cards] – Crono [assistant Mike Cron] has taken me under his wing. The coaches are thinking of everything.”
Leti-I’iga said: “I love to run the ball so for that to be incorporated in our game and to be given the licence to run the ball for everyone in our 23 is pretty cool. It’s amazing to see it unfold on the field because we bring it.”
The Black Ferns will travel to Whangārei for their final Test of the series against the United States next Saturday afternoon with added confidence in their abilities and their game plan.
“There are some in the squad who haven’t had a game or have little time so they’ll be starting,” Smith said. “I trust the squad - we’ve got a strong 31. They’re all up to the level. It’s difficult to separate them. It’s going to be up them to make it difficult for us not to select them.
“We’ve still got a lot of time up our sleeves before the World Cup comes. As long as we keep progressing it will be exciting.”
With the Black Ferns in this form it will be the hottest ticket in town.