Marlborough Express

Smith brushes off NZR blunder


There’s a greater buzz this week in the Black Ferns’ camp along the sparkling Tutukaka Coast for the long-awaited return of co-captain Kennedy Simon for her Rugby World Cup debut.

Granted, the scheduling blunder which New Zealand Rugby has owned up to has been greatly scrutinise­d, in New Zealand and abroad, with the Black Ferns’ quarterfin­al with Wales in Whanga¯rei tomorrow night clashing with the All Blacks’ test against Japan in Tokyo.

Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith acknowledg­ed the mistake at yesterday’s press conference in Tutukaka, but he said it wasn’t an issue for him and the team as they prepare for the World Cup knockout stages in Northland.

‘‘New Zealand Rugby has answered that question. They stuffed up,’’ Smith said.

‘‘Who should people watch on Saturday night? It’s up to them.

‘‘We’ve got a huge crowd coming along in Whanga¯ rei from what I hear. That will be great.’’

The Black Ferns have this week been located in a dream Kiwi summer destinatio­n before a likely return to Auckland’s hustle and bustle for next Saturday’s semifinals at Eden Park.

In the second week of their Northland stay, superstar winger Portia Woodman will play a test in her home province for the first time – she was rested for last Saturday’s 57-0 win over Scotland in Whanga¯rei – and the 31-year-old from Kaikohe couldn’t stop grinning when asked about that prospect.

She also clapped when asked about the impact of Simon’s comeback and was seemingly not fussed with their schedule clash with the All Blacks. ‘‘If we look at the whole situation, we’re playing at a World Cup quarterfin­al here in Whanga¯ rei. I know, for the community here, it’s done wonders for it,’’ Woodman said.

‘‘To know we’re playing a quarterfin­al, it doesn’t play on our mind, any of that scheduling stuff. We’re really excited to get out there. Hopefully, we get a full crowd again.’’

Smith has named a team that looks close to full strength and is boosted significan­tly by Simon’s return from a plantaris injury (a long, thin muscle down the back of her leg).

The powerful Waikato loose forward is the Black Fern of the year but suffered a knee injury earlier this season and has played only 109 minutes of test rugby.

The 26-year-old was named on the bench, as the Black Ferns have been cautious with her comeback, and she said she was emotional about her selection for her first

World Cup match after anxiously hobbling off two months ago in an O’reilly Cup test with Australia in Adelaide.

‘‘I’m extremely excited. I’m really grateful to still be here and have the faith of my team and the coaches to put the black jersey on,’’ Simon said. ‘‘It was hard being sidelined, but I know what I’m capable of and have had a great medical team behind me that only wants the best. I am ready.’’

Smith said Simon was the most innovative captain he has worked with in his long coaching career.

‘‘Kennedy is a motivated woman. Even when she wasn’t training, she would get stats done for training, she would feed that back to the girls and helped the coaches a lot,’’ Smith said.

‘‘Her messaging is very clear. She is very direct and well respected. It’s great to have her back.’’

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