Triple Threat: Patricia Maliepo's stunning return to the Black Ferns

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A Black Fern on the Northern Tour of 2021, two concussions effectively ruled her out of contention for the Rugby World Cup last year.

An unusual foot injury has hampered Maliepo's progress for much of 2023, but don't tell her that.

"I felt like I was meant to be there when I got the call. With Renee Holmes not playing I knew I’d be asked to slot in at 15 but I wasn’t expecting to start," Maliepo said.

“I was stoked to put on that black jersey again and play at home in front of my friends and family. I've got good people around me and that makes my job easier."

Maliepo scored her first Test try in the 19th minute when she burst into a slight hole created from a Ruahei Demant bullet pass. Maliepo carried several chasing Australian defenders over the line.

"I looked up and I thought the ref had blown a penalty for not releasing. I was quite surprised when she rewarded the try," Maliepo said.

Hard and incisive ruining is a hallmark of Maliepo. Her preferred position is second five-eighth.

"I spent my early years playing ten and it was just getting the ball and distributing all the time. Second-five is similar except you have more time and get to run more."

Maliepo was in the 12 jersey when Auckland stunned Canterbury 39-27 in the FPC Premiership final in Christchurch. An affirmation session with a mental skills advisor prior to the match proved the catalyst for the Storm to break the shackles and play fearless rugby.

"We were in a room and asked to talk about each other's superpowers. What are the best things we see in our teammates," Maliepo recalled.

"The point was to stop us from getting all worried and stressed. For example, the superpower of our fullback Braxton Sorensen-McGree was gymnastics. She had a dramatic fall over an advertising board at Eden Park and did a flip to get back on her feet. The video went viral, and it showed she had her eyes on the ball the whole time.

"My superpower is triple threat. I can kick, pass and carry."

Maliepo has scored 174 points in 26 games (18 wins) for Auckland.

But for some of 2023, walking was a challenge. During an internal Black Ferns trial in May, Maliepo injured her foot in an accidental tangle with Tenika Willison.

"I made a break and Tenika tackled me. My foot landed awkwardly, and I thought nothing of it until the pain became too much," Maliepo explained.

"I damaged my llisfranc. I'm like, 'Who's llisfranc?' The llisfranc is like a rubber band that holds everything together for the foot to work. I tore two ligaments. If I'd torn a third, I’d have needed surgery.

"Unfortunately, I’m quite familiar with injuries and not being able to participate in big events with the Black Ferns. I just had to be patient and get on top of my rehab."

Maliepo lost her first three Tests against England and France. The Black Ferns are a different proposition from 2021 but Maliepo is acutely aware of the threat the Rugby World Cup silver and bronze medallists present in the looming World XV 1 series. 

"France plays like us. They attack from anywhere and are very good at it. England is really structured. Their strengths are spread across the field.

"We've got a good mixture of players from the Rugby World Cup and those with new talent, enjoying themselves and keen to express themselves."

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