Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns recruit Olympic sevens stars to defend 15s crown on home soil in October/November

Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith has tapped into the Olympic champion sevens programme for his squad to defend the Rugby World Cup 15s crown on home soil over October/November.

Veteran halfback Kendra Cocksedge and outside back Renee Wickliffe will attend their fourth World Cup tournament, with seven players returning from the successful 2017 campaign.

Loose forward Kennedy Simon and first-five Ruahei Demant have been named co-captains.

While most of the 32-strong squad have already appeared for the NZ women's team over five tests this year, Smith has also brought five players across from the sevens team that took gold at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Sevens captain Sarah Hirini, and speedsters Portia Woodman and Stacey Fluhler have not been part of the 15s build-up, as they concentrated on defending their Commonwealth Games and World Cup crowns.

Ruby Tui and Theresa Fitzpatrick had already foresaken their aspirations in the reduced format to dedicate themselves to the Black Ferns, while Tyla Nathan-Wong has missed selection, after a brief appearance in the Laurie O'Reilly Cup series against Australia.

"This is an incredibly special moment for the players selected and on behalf of the coaching group, I want to congratulate all those named in today's squad, it's an exciting time, not only for them, but their whānau and wider communities as well," said Smith.

Joanah Ngan-Woo in action for the Black Fern against Australia
Joanah Ngan-Woo in action for the Black Fern against Australia. Photo credit: Photosport

Among the notable omissions from the squad is barnstorming No.8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker, one of the stars of the Pacific Four series in June, who is unavailable through injury.

Loose forward Les Elder, who captained the team to Europe last year, has also missed selection.

"There some great people and great players who have missed out, but ultimately, what it came down to was we wanted fit, fast, explosive, powerful athletes, who were pretty good at rugby," said assistant coach Whitney Hansen.

"That sounds like a silly thing to say, but it's not enough to just be able to scrummage any more, you have to be a really great rugby player as well."

The Black Ferns were given a rude awakening by rivals England and France during their northern hemisphere tour late last year, forcing NZ rugby to reassess the physical requirements of their players in a new professional environment.

But the team's off-field culture also fell under the spotlight, forcing then-coach Glenn Moore to step down from the role to make way for former All Blacks mastermind Smith.

"Work rate was massive and character was really important," confirmed Hansen. "When you go away for 8-9 weeks together, sometimes the right person is the right person."

Black Ferns squad

Hookers - Luke Connor, Natalie Delamere, Georgia Ponsonby

Props - Tanya Kalounitvale, Phillipa Love, Krystal Murray, Amy Rule, Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, Santo Taumata

Locks - Chelsea Bremner, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Maiakawanakaulani Roos

Loose forwards - Alana Bremner, Sarah Hirini, Charmaine McMenamin, Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, Kendra Reynolds, Kennedy Simon

Halfbacks - Ariana Bayler, Kendra Cocksedge, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu

First-fives - Ruahei Demant, Hazel Tubic

Midfielders - Sylvia Brunt, Amy du Plessis, Theresa Fitzpatrick

Outside backs - Stacey Fluhler, Renee Holmes, Ayesha Leti-I'iga, Ruby Tui, Renee Wickliffe, Portia Woodman

Watch 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 title defence, starting October 8