Rugby World Cup: Attention to detail key to Black Ferns defending world crown in New Zealand

Defending a World Cup crown on home soil will take far more than just a squad of great rugby players, as Black Ferns skipper Ruahei Demant is quickly finding out.

First-five Demant and loose forward Kennedy Simon have been named co-captains for the NZ women's outfit trying to win back-to-back world titles - and New Zealand's sixth altogether - over the next two months.

The fact they share that responsibility is indicative of the added pressure facing the 32-strong team, plus staff, as they try to recover lost ground to their rivals on the field, while appeasing the demands of expectant family, friends and fans off the field.

While several of the team have attended previous tournaments - and for veterans Kendra Cocksedge and Renee Wickliffe, this will be their fourth - none have done so in New Zealand, where the event forms part of a movement to springboard women's rugby into the future.

In fact, only one member of the Black Ferns camp has ever contested a home World Cup - coach Wayne Smith was part of the brains trust that guided the All Blacks to victory at Eden Park in 2011.

"He's had a few conversations with us as a team," said Demant. "Of all of us, he's the only person who's been in a team playing a World Cup at home with the ABs.

"That's one of the reasons he wanted Kennedy and me to be co-captains, so we could share that load, and managing pressures and managing families.

"Now our squad's announced, I know he'll probably talk to us more as a team about those unexpected pressures we haven't really thought about yet. We're lucky to have someone like that, who's been through it before."

Demant, 27, debuted for the Black Ferns in 2018 - the year after their latest World Cup success - and inherited the captaincy from Les Elder for the Pacific Four series against Australia, USA and Canada in June.

Simon, 25, achieved national selection in 2019, and was Black Ferns Player of the Year the following year. She joined Demant in the leadership role during last month's Laurie O'Reilly Cup series against the Wallaroos. 

"I feel very honoured to be co-captain alongside Kennedy," said Demant. "We haven't played too many games together in the black jersey - it's really fresh, it's a really different team.

"There's a massive mix of experience, but especially youth.There's so many of us that haven't been to a World Cup before, so to have the opportunity to enhance the mana of this team is very humbling."

Ruahei Demant meets a young fan at the Black Ferns team announcement
Ruahei Demant meets a young fan at the Black Ferns team announcement. Photo credit: Photosport

Smith insists part of this team's legacy will be their impact on the rugby community.

"These women have a lot to offer to community, whether it be kids and after-school programmes," he said. "There are all sorts of projects we can get involved in and I'd like us to be known for that - that's really important to me and to the team."

Managing those outside pressures will be crucial to how the Ferns perform on the field, where history will ultimately judge them.

Still relatively new to the captaincy, Demant is slowly finding her feet in the role. Asked about the most surprising aspect of her job, her answer is unequivocal.

"This," she insisted, accidentally bumping a microphone with her hand, as she swept the media scrum.

"Sorry, this is the stuff I'm not used to. The easiest part of being captain is training and games, especially as a 10, because you're always talking and driving the game.

"This extra stuff you take for granted when you're on tour, and your captain's away doing media or other promo stuff... now Kennedy and I get to do it. We're very fortunate.

"The more I do it, the more I get used to it, and it's cool that Kennedy and I get to share that responsibility and that load. It's also cool to have other players in the team, like Kendra... I know you love talking to her and she loves to yarn."

Catch the Rugby World Cup 2021 live on Spark Sport and free-to-air on Three, or join us for live updates of the Black Ferns campaign