Rugby World Cup: Struggling black ferns face a very challenging task to recover form in time

Chelsea Alley runs the ball at the French defense during the test defeat at Castres in November.

Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Chelsea Alley runs the ball at the French defense during the test defeat at Castres in November.

The Black Ferns have the talent to erase last year’s horror tour of Europe in time for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in October – but they’ll be up against and need a little help from their friends, says Melodie Robinson.

The former Black Fern, like many, was disappointed when the Black Ferns were firmly defeated by England and France in November, believing they had been ill-prepared from a long, forced period of “isolation”.

The Black Ferns struggled against two well-prepared teams on their tour of England and France.

NZ RUGBY/delivered

The Black Ferns struggled against two well-prepared teams on their tour of England and France.

Robinson sees clear areas for improvement, but the woman who won two Rugby World Cups during her playing career is under no illusions about the mountain they have to climb.

“Yes there is [time], although it would be a very challenging task for them to turn that around,” Robinson said stuff.

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“…I think if you looked at what went wrong for them at the end of the year tour, it was playing skills, things that can be solved by some really intense coaching in expertise.

“And I think we have a lot of them in New Zealand. Let’s say Wayne Smith raised his hand to help their attack from number 1 to number 15. You know they can really improve.

“We also have excellent line-out coaches, and that was a major Achilles heel, defensive lineouts and stopping mauls, and that’s something you can work really hard on to fine-tune how you’re going to defend it.”

The Black Ferns’ tour sparked some investigation into the state of the national side, especially after hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate later said she was having a mental health crisis after supposedly critical comments from head coach Glenn Moore.

Robinson didn’t want to pre-empt New Zealand Rugby’s review of the tour, but noted that elite sport often placed heavy mental demands on the participants.

“I think you always have to understand, and this goes for all high-performance sports, that it’s high pressure,” she said. “It’s a very unusual culture to be a part of, and people find it difficult.

“It has always been that way. And so I really feel for Te Kura’s reaction, because it’s hard, it’s really, really hard… you do feel a lot of pressure.

“So, [the outcome] really depends on what the rest of the players said in the review, the feedback they have given.

“Things like that unite teams to be closer together and improve. So a year after a World Cup it is not a disaster. You can get really tight.

Melodie Robinson would like to see Sarah Hirini return to the Black Ferns for the Rugby World Cup in October.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Melodie Robinson would like to see Sarah Hirini return to the Black Ferns for the Rugby World Cup in October.

“The Black Ferns have a great culture off the field. It’s just little things like that with the pressure and well-being that also needs to be taken care of.”

Robinson was also hopeful that the availability of some key players from the Sevens program could make a big difference to the Black Ferns, most notably the inspirational Sarah Hirini, who will play for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Aupuki.

“Remember that some Sevens girls will also be available,” she said. “So that strengthens your talent pool, hopefully with people like Sarah Hirini available for the World Cup they will really give them the expertise they need.”

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