Rugby World Cup: Dan Carter among All Blacks greats lending expertise to Black Ferns for Cup crunchtime

Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith is taking full advantage of his years of experience at the All Blacks helm, calling in favours from a host of his former players to help his new charges, as the biggest fortnight of their rugby careers looms.

Smith has scrolled thoroughly through his contacts and enlisted the help of some of his most decorated players, particularly those from the All Blacks squad he helped lead to Rugby World Cup glory in New Zealand back in 2011, whose parallels with this Ferns side - preparing to face France in their own heavyweight semi-final at home - are obvious.

Among the most regular attendees at training has been legendary pivot Dan Carter, whose reputation as who Smith describes "the best player of all time" clearly still precedes him.

"When he first came I invited the four kickers to training and the whole backline turned up, and a couple of the props turned up as well," laughed Smith.

"The hard thing has just been trying to get the key people in, but they all turn up when Daniel's there.

"He's been huge for the team and he's still got a part to play."

Other former All Blacks who have happily answered their former coach's call have been hooker Kevn Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu - who have both worked closely with the likes of Sylvia Brunt - Ali Williams, who's paired with Fern lock Maia Roos, and Ben Smith, who's been sharing his fullback expertise with Ferns custodian Renee Holmes. 

"We've got a hell of a lot of support from key people that I've worked with," said Smith. "It's been phenomenal how keen the ex players have been to help."

Dan Carter working with Black Ferns star Sarah Hirini.
Dan Carter working with Black Ferns star Sarah Hirini. Photo credit: Getty Images

Three-time World Rugby player of the year Carter was called upon primarily for the Black Ferns to tap into his wealth of knowledge in the kicking aspect of the game, especially off the tee.

The biggest beneficiary of his tutelage has been Holmes, who's transformed from a relatively unknown kicking commodity in Smith's eyes to one of the most dependable boots on the team, one of the key reasons she was selected to start in the No. 15 jersey against Les Bleues.

"Initially when she started goal kicking she started pivoting around the ball too much," Smith explained. So, we got the best in the world in Daniel Carter to do some work with her.

"He's really improved all of the women, Renee in particular. She kicked one from 50m in training the other day, so that's a bonus."

Holmes admitted having a mentor of Carter's pedigree has been "special".

"It's actually been incredible having Dan come in," said Holmes, who's the only new starter in Smith's side to face the French. "I can hand on heart say my kicking game has changed since he's come into this environment.

"He didn't come in trying to change kicking styles or anything, he just made small tweaks.

"Every time he comes in it's so valuable and you can just see the passion he has for women's rugby, which is even cooler. It's pretty special having him in."

Equally helpful as his technical assistance has been Carter's advice on dealing with high pressure situations on and off the field, Holmes added.

"I got to ask those questions about what goes through his mind when he's missed a kick. What goes through his mind when he's about to take a penalty that might put them ahead by three [points].

"It was actually really crucial and I took a lot away from what he actually had to say. Then it got me thinking about my processes and what I'm going to do."

Holmes and her Black Ferns teammates will need every ounce of help they can muster against France, who handily dealt with the New Zealanders during last year's northern tour.

But according to Smith, the lack of preparation that team had before heading to Europe means little can be read into those results. 

He insisted his team will be an altogether different proposition for the French this weekend, especially stylistically, where they've been completely overhauled - embracing their primary strength as lethal counter attackers who focus on playing with width.

"I think the key point is that they hadn't played much before going to the northern hemisphere and it's unfair to judge them," Smith noted.

"They had a couple of weeks of preparation before going to play the two best teams in the world.

"We have decided as a group we had to change the way we play to be able to compete against these teams… you've seen that over these last few months.

"It hasn't been easy because it doesn't come naturally, the kind of game we're trying to play. It takes a special skillset and it takes a lot of efficiency, because otherwise you'll run yourselves into the ground

"It's been quite a big job. I've got really good coaches working with me and we're all really proud of what we've done, but now's crunchtime."

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 Black Ferns v France semi-final