World champions New Zealand have unveiled an experienced squad packed with World Cup winners and Sevens stars for the International Series which will see them face Australia, Canada and Samoa on home soil in June.
Twelve members of the squad that claimed a fourth successive Women’s Rugby World Cup crown in 2010 feature alongside three uncapped players and a number of players contracted to the New Zealand Sevens squad.
Sevens captain Huriana Manuel, Linda Itunu, Selicia Winiata and Portia Woodman were all part of the New Zealand side that won the China Sevens earlier this month to top the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series standings with one round to go in their title defence.
Another member of that Sevens squad is Honey Hireme who is in line to make her Black Ferns debut alongside other uncapped players in hooker Te-Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and second row Sanita Levave.
The matches against Australia (1 June), Samoa (7 June as curtain raiser to All Blacks Test with England) and Canada (10 and 14 June) will act as a trial run for players hoping to make the squad for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014, which takes place in France from 1-17 August.
“We have been very impressed with the work the players have put in, and we’re delighted to have three new caps in the squad as well as the return of some familiar faces who were not with us last year through injury and personal commitments,” explained Black Ferns coach Brian Evans.
“We were very impressed with Sanita Levave as a new cap – she’s obviously worked very hard with Wellington teammate Jackie Patea to push for a spot in the squad. Sanita is big, strong and fast and has got herself into great shape so we’re excited about having her on board.
Sevens leadership to benefit Fifteens
“Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate has excellent ball-carrying skills for a hooker so we know she’ll bring something special to the front row. Anyone who has seen Honey Hireme play will know how dangerous her speed and strength can be in both attack and on defence.
“We’re delighted to have Huriana Manuel and Linda Itunu back in the fold – and I know that their leadership with the Women’s Sevens team will add value to this side.
“Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali comes back into the 2014 side after injury sidelined her last year which is great news. I think we have an incredibly exciting backline and our tight five is pretty impressive so I’m very happy with our squad.
“We have been very fortunate that despite Victoria Grant, Vita Dryden and Karina Stowers declaring themselves unavailable due to being pregnant, we have had some great competition for all positions.
“We think we have an exciting mix of experience and that’s important for on-field decision making, as well as youthful talent and energy which will create a competitive edge within the side.
“We’re all looking forward to the Test matches against Australia in Rotorua, against Manusina Samoa at Eden Park, and Canada in Tauranga and Rotorua. This is a unique opportunity for people to see this special team playing at home.”
New Zealand will play in the opening match of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 against Kazakhstan and then face Ireland and USA in Pool B with only the top side guaranteed a place in the semi-finals on 13 August.
“The Black Ferns represent a very special part of our game,” added New Zealand Rugby Chairman Mike Eagle. As four-time world champions, we know this is a team capable of achieving very special results. I know that the players will have an eye on securing a place in the Black Ferns squad to represent New Zealand as defending champions at this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in France in August.”
New Zealand squad for International Series
Forwards: Ruth McKay (Manawatu), Aleisha Nelson (Auckland), Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox (Canterbury), Kathleen Wilton (Otago), Fiao’o Fa’amausili (captain), *Te-Kura Ngata-Aerengamate (Counties Manukau), Eloise Blackwell (Auckland), *Sanita Levave (Wellington), Jackie Patea (Wellington), Rawinia Everitt (Counties Manukau), Linda Itunu (Auckland), Justine Lavea (Auckland), Casey Robertson (Canterbury), Aroha Savage (Counties Manukau).
Backs: Kendra Cocksedge (Canterbury), Emma Jensen (Canterbury), Kelly Brazier (Otago), Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali (Otago), *Honey Hireme (Waikato), Huriana Manuel (Auckland), Claire Richardson (Auckland), Amiria Rule (Canterbury), Shakira Baker (Manawatu), Renee Wickliffe (Counties Manukau), Portia Woodman (Auckland), Selica Winiata (Manawatu).
* denotes uncapped player