Ferns boost mid­court for se­ries

Vet­eran Ras­mussen omit­ted from squad to meet Di­a­monds

Weekend Herald - - RUGBY - Dana Jo­hannsen

The Sil­ver Ferns se­lec­tors have named a mid­court- heavy line- up for next month’s Con­stel­la­tion Cup se­ries against Aus­tralia as they seek so­lu­tions for a lack of depth at cen­tre.

The bol­stered mid­court group con­tains one no­table omis­sion, with vet­eran Grace Ras­mussen — a reg­u­lar starter for the Ferns over the past few sea­sons — edged out by dy­namic young­ster Whit­ney Souness.

With the ver­sa­tile Kayla Cullen able to pro­vide cover in the de­fen­sive cir­cle, the se­lec­tors have ef­fec­tively named five mid­courters in the group — Cullen, Souness, Gina Cramp­ton, Shan­non Fran­cois and Sam Sin­clair.

New Zealand coach Ja­nine Southby ad­mit­ted it was a tough call to leave out Ras­mussen, par­tic­u­larly when the 49- test Sil­ver Fern’s ex­pe­ri­ence and nous proved valu­able in the tense fi­nal quar­ter of the Ferns’ 62- 55 win over Eng­land in the se­ries de­cider on Wed­nes­day night. Southby said it was Souness’ abil­ity to play both wing at­tack and cen­tre, and a de­sire to give her fur­ther time to de­velop in the test arena that saw the 21- year- old in­cluded.

“With Whit­ney we feel we need more time to see her. We liked what we saw from her in the Quad Se­ries and we feel that we need to have an­other look at that be­cause at this point we don’t have a lot of depth in the cen­tre po­si­tion,” said Southby.

“We’re re­ally keen to en­sure we’re up to three- deep across each po­si­tion. We feel like we’re get­ting that in other po­si­tions and we’ve been able to fo­cus on them, cen­tre hasn’t been that fo­cused, so over the com­ing se­ries we need to have a re­ally good look at that.”

With cen­tre op­tions thin on the ground, Fran­cois faced a heavy work­load over the Quad Se­ries and Eng­land se­ries, play­ing all but three min­utes of the six tests. The only player to rack up more min­utes was cap­tain Ka­t­rina Grant.

Souness won’t be the only cen­tre op­tion Ferns man­age­ment will be hop­ing to have a look at over the four­test se­ries, with Sin­clair in the mix.

“Whit­ney tri­alled well at cen­tre and she has had a few tri­als games there and there’s def­i­nitely a lot of prom­ise there, but it’s a big ask for some­one to come into the in­terna- tional zone against Aus­tralia, so we’re re­ally mind­ful of that and we’ve also got Sam Sin­clair who is able to come in at cen­tre as she has done at ANZ level.”

The other main ca­su­al­ties in yes­ter­day’s team nam­ing were de­fend­ers Jane Wat­son and Phoenix Karaka. Wat­son rock­eted through the na­tional ranks last sea­son to be­come a reg­u­lar starter at goal keep, but the rise of young­ster Kelly Jury and resur­gence of en­forcer Te­mal­isi Faka­hoko­tau left no room for the Steel de­fender, who was named MVP in this year’s ANZ Pre­mier­ship.

The ath­letic Karaka has been a mem­ber of the na­tional side since 2015, but over that time has been un­able to se­cure reg­u­lar court time.

Southby said there will be op­por­tu­ni­ties for the ex­cluded play­ers to force their way into the line- up ahead of the Com­mon­wealth Games. The re­turn leg of the Quad Se­ries in South Africa and Eng­land is sched­uled for Jan­uary, while Net­ball New Zealand is in the process of lin­ing up a se­ries against one of the com­pet­ing Com­mon­wealth Games teams in the weeks lead­ing up to the Gold Coast tour­na­ment.

The Con­stel­la­tion Cup gets un­der way in Auck­land on Oc­to­ber 5, be­fore mov­ing to Christchurch, and wraps up with the fi­nal two tests in Aus­tralia.

Pic­ture / photosport. nz

Whit­ney Souness edged out vet­eran Grace Ras­mussen for the se­ries against Aus­tralia.

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