Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns 2022 turnaround fills former captain Les Elder with confidence before home tournament

The Black Ferns have emerged from the other side of a horrendous 2021 as a better team right in time to peak at this year's Rugby World Cup, former captain Les Elder believes.

In a tumultuous end to last year, New Zealand's eyes were opened to the gulf in class between the Black Ferns and Europe's elite.

In four tests against England and France, the Black Ferns' tour ended winless, as on and off-field issues were laid bare for the world to see.

Black Ferns co-captain Ruahei Demant leads the haka.
Black Ferns co-captain Ruahei Demant leads the haka. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

A review into the team followed, resulting in the resignation of coach Glenn Moore after a damning indictment into the Black Ferns' culture.

But after Wayne Smith was parachuted in as the team's director of rugby, the Black Ferns have risen from the ashes to find form at the perfect time for a World Cup on their doorstep.

The team is currently on a six-test unbeaten run, defeating Australia, Canada, USA and Japan in the process.

And in those six tests, the Black Ferns have scored 270 points while only letting in 47 in response.

For Elder, who captained the Black Ferns on that 2021 tour, the team's rise this year has put any concerns to bed.

"Obviously we went through a bit of hardship at the end of last year on the northern tour, and then came back to a very public review," Elder told Newshub.

Charmaine McMenamin of the Black Ferns.
Charmaine McMenamin of the Black Ferns. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

"At the start of the year I probably would have been quite worried - I was quite worried.

"But the progress the team's made, there's been a transition of coaches, transition of players.

"What they've been able to turn around in the six months post the review, has been pretty good."

Despite all the progress this year though, the true test still awaits the Black Ferns.

To win this World Cup, the Black Ferns will have to face one of if not both England and France - their two 2021 tormentors.

Elder, though, believes the team will be sure they can lift the World Cup come November 12.

"You don't play this game to not believe you can do it. You play, and you believe wholeheartedly that you can get the result you're striving for," she said.

"One hundred percent they can do it. There'll be [an] expectation on them, as we all know as Kiwis.

"But it's going to be tough, and I think they know that."

Helping the team will be home support, riding a wave of enthusiasm for the team.

Eden Park is a sellout for Saturday's opening day, as a record crowd of 40,000 will watch New Zealand's campaign begin against Australia.

"It's massive," said Elder. "They're going to need everyone screaming, they're going to need to hear people behind them.

"We've got some big competition coming up. The live stadium's going to make it all worth it."

Watch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub on Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Australia World Cup opener.