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Why the Black Ferns are less favoured for Rugby World Cup glory than England and France

STUFF

The Black Ferns are playing in their first Rugby World Cup on home soil in October and November.

Joseph Pearson is a sports reporter for Stuff.

OPINION: The Black Ferns are the reigning world champions, and with five Rugby World Cup wins in seven tournaments, have been one of the dominant international sports teams on the planet for 31 years. Over the next six weeks, they are hosting their first World Cup.

However, while the demanding rugby public expects its national teams to succeed, the Black Ferns are not favoured to lift the World Cup trophy they have gripped so tightly to the extent they have given it a nickname, Nancy.

The Black Ferns should be considered third favourites behind European heavyweights England and France after last November’s difficult northern tour, with England odds-on after a record winning streak of 25 tests since 2src19.

Yes, with a revitalised coaching team led by Wayne Smith and after six wins in a row in a season less disrupted by Covid-19 chaos, the Black Ferns are more prepared for the challenge after arriving in Europe last year underprepared, undercooked, and under the constraints of a pandemic which also made touring more uncomfortable than ever.

And, once last summer’s culture review into the team revealed major shortcomings in the support for high performance women’s rugby, New Zealand Rugby is providing the Black Ferns with greater foundations to function as a fully fledged professional outfit.

Harry Trump/Getty Images

Zoe Harrison crossing for an England try in their win over the last Black Ferns last year in Exeter.

But it could be too late.

The Black Ferns went 27 months without test rugby before facing world No 1 England and lost 43-12 – a record defeat in their 1srcsrcth test that was beaten the following week when England won 56-15.

Their third and fourth-heaviest defeats followed in the next two weeks against France (38-13 and 29-7) and it was clear the balance of power had shifted to the north.

New Zealand Rugby won hosting rights for the World Cup in 2src18 – eight months after announcing it would give the Black Ferns semi-professional contracts for the first time – but England and France accelerated their women’s rugby programmes and were more professional sooner.

They have also had regular, high-quality fixtures throughout a competitive Six Nations during the pandemic.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Gett

…. to be continued
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