Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns determined to fix woes up front, despite unbeaten start

The Black Ferns may have guaranteed their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with back-to-back big wins, but they are still chasing a complete performance.

Despite scoring almost 100 points in their opening games against Australia and Wales, New Zealand have struggled up front and at set-piece.

Their lack of domination in the close, physical encounters resulted in poor discipline and even yellow cards in their 56-12 victory over Wales at Waitakere Stadium, but just as they promised before the tournament, the Black Ferns were determined to play with freedom and attacking intent, eventually running riot against fading opponents.

Sylvia Brunt.
Sylvia Brunt. Photo credit: Photosport

Coach Wayne Smith admits his team have to improve in the forwards battle, but their focus has been elsewhere, with one eye on their main rivals.

"That attacking intent was set up a lot by our defence," he said. "Our defence was way faster this week, we made some great tackles, our counterattack off those were pretty special.

"We've got a little bit of work to do up front, I think, but we did put a lot of time into the other two things during the week. It's like when you're moving one finger and trying to move another, and it stops - that was us today.

"We're aware that England never got a bonus point, nor did Canada, so it was important for us to really play, and try and get a bonus point.

"We're going to have to do the same next week - Scotland should've beaten Wales last week, they're going to be a tough proposition again. We just have to have a good week, recover well and play well.

"We've got 32 women who all deserve an opportunity, they're all good. We're getting closer, I think, to what it's going to look like, but there will be other changes coming up this week."

One player not complaining about New Zealand's relentless counterattacking is star fullback Ruby Tui.

Part of an all-star back three of Portia Woodman and Renee Wickliffe, Tui feasted on the open space at Waitakere Stadium. She believes something special is brewing within the Black Ferns camp.

"We talk about playing with freedom in our team and it's really hard to describe to someone what that state is like," she said. "We've been having so many conversations, working on so many things.

"It looks like we're going 100mph, but when someone's got your back, it's almost like time slows down a little bit and you can almost have a whole conversation in a millisecond.

"To be able to play with freedom, but also have that connection with that person next to you, and the rate and speed that we got that with each other... I've never experienced it, and I'm so blessed that I get to wear this jersey and I'm part of it, because it's pretty special."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us at 4:45pm Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Scotland pool encounter