Rugby World Cup: How Black Ferns plan to shock physical French in semi-final showdown

The Black Ferns need no reminding of the challenge they face when they take on a "physical" and "brutal" French side in the Rugby World Cup semi-final on Saturday.

New Zealand have yet to be tested at the tournament, following another comfortable 55-3 victory over Wales in their quarter-final.

But France will undoubtedly pose the biggest threat to the Black Ferns' unbeaten run so far, after they strolled past Italy 39-3 at Whangārei in the other knockout match.

Much like their Northern Hemisphere neighbours, the French rely on a physical approach and tactical kicking to wear down their opponents.

They will also be encouraged by their previous meetings against the Black Ferns, with back-to-back wins at the end of last year.

But the Black Ferns plan to spring a few surprises on Les Bleues this time around, in a test that will be by far their stiffest to date at Eden Park.

"Our defence will probably get challenged in a way it hasn't been so far," New Zealand assistant coach Whitney Hansen said. 

"They're incredibly physical, particularly their forward pack and they'll probably look to kick a wee bit more than anyone who we've played against.

"They've been playing Northern Hemisphere teams that like to play the way that they do and that's not how we play. Hopefully there's a few surprises for them around that.

"Their brutality and their physicality in their forward pack is definitely a weapon and I think you saw that - they tried to use that and did it well, particularly bringing on their bench."

Much has been made of the Black Ferns' journey in the last year, from a horrid 2021 northern tour, to a now 10-match unbeaten run.

Hansen revealed New Zealand aren't viewing their semi-final match as an opportunity for revenge against France, but is delighted with the progress they've made since.

"It's been really exponential," he said. "The journey has been a short one in terms of the coaching we have now, and this group of players.

"We get asked about that a lot, and the thing for us is, we can't control that.

"We've done what we can and we're excited where we're at. But we know we have a ways to go to get better before next weekend.

"We haven't talked about that, it's not the language that we've used and I don't think the players need any extra motivation to get up for this.

"It's a home World Cup and we're in a home semi-final, every week has just been about the job and this weekend coming will be about that one."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub from 7:30pm, Saturday for live updates of the semi-final between the Black Ferns and France