Black Ferns wary of France’s kicking game in crunch semifinal

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Coach Wayne Smith said the French halfback Pauline Bourdon is an outstanding box kicker who gave herself room to make the most of her skill. They had a left-footed fullback Emilie Boulard and a right-footed flyhalf Caroline Drouin.

"Their 10 is probably the most attacking kicker in the world with a box of tricks. Their fullback has a big left foot, and they've dominated games through territory, so it's not easy to counter any of these. It's going to be a great test for us."

Smith said the choice of Renee Holmes ahead of Ayesha Leti-li'ga was to cope with the ability of France's kicking game.

"Renee is a specialist fullback, she plays well, is probably the best goal-kicker, and she's good at restarts. We thought it was the right thing.

"Ayesha is going to be our detonator, and she'll come on at some point and bang! She's exceptional, and we're lucky that we've got choices and we know they're all going to perform."

Holmes had benefited from working with Dan Carter during the campaign.

"He comes every week that we're in Auckland to do a session with them. He's improved all our women and Renee in particular. She's outstanding and kicked one from 50m at training the other day.

"When Dan first came in, I invited the four kickers to come into training, but the whole backline turned up, and even a couple of props as well."

But it wasn't just Carter who was involved. Conrad Smith has worked with the centres, Ben Smith has helped Holmes, and Ma'a Nonu has twice joined the group with work with Sylvia Brunt. Keven Mealamu and Darren Whitcombe also helped.

"It's been phenomenal how keen ex-players are to help. Dan has been giving the team some great messages about winning at a Rugby World Cup.

"He's the best player I ever coached, and I think the best player of all time and I feel really grateful for having coached him because I learned more from him than any other person, even though I was supposed to be coaching him."

Holmes said her kicking game had changed since her sessions with Carter.

"It was small things that he's helped me with. He didn't come in and try and change my kicking style, he made small tweaks and used small keywords that have changed how I kick. I took a lot away from what he said and it got me thinking about my process and what I am going to do."

Smith explained Sarah Hirini's selection in the loose by saying she had executed the transition from sevens to the side well.

"She's been phenomenal at being able to adapt to the different skills needed and the physicality needed."

And with Kennedy Symon on the bench after coming back from a severe injury, there was cover for each loose forward position.

Centre Theresa Fitzpatrick said, "We know France is a very clinical side. They have a big kicking game, and their defensive pressure is good.

"We've used these few weeks to prepare ourselves as best we can. We're focusing on what we can do and play to our strengths.

"We know they're going to be passionate and run hard, but we will control what we can, and make the game exciting by keeping the ball alive."


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