FRANCE NEWS: Black Ferns believe they can catch up to England and France in time for Rugby World Cup

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FRANCE NEWS:

BLACK FERNS

The Black Ferns are confident they can catch up to England and France for next year’s World Cup at home.

The Black Ferns are not short of self-belief for next year’s Rugby World Cup at home after their record defeats to England and France.

Assistant coach Wes Clarke says they can catch up to the superior English and French teams which have outplayed and outmuscled them in the first three weeks of their northern tour that has reintroduced them to test rugby.

As comebacks go, the dormant Black Ferns have had water thrown in their eyes after a Covid-enforced absence of more than two years.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Maia Roos was one of the Black Ferns’ best in their defeat to France in Pau.

New Zealand suffered their two heaviest losses in history to world No 1 England (56-15 and 43-12), then lost by a record margin (38-13) to France in their first test in Pau last weekend.

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However, Clarke said their defeats haven’t surprised them too much, as they face losing four successive tests for the first time.

“I’ve certainly been disappointed by the results,” he said via Zoom on Wednesday (NZ time).

“We expected that we’d be a little undercooked. That is why we were desperate to get a tour in difficult times.

“We knew that if we left it any longer, we’d be in even more trouble. There are players who have played a few games of FPC (Farah Palmer Cup) and others who played two games of rugby all year.

“They needed test matches.”

Warwick Smith/Stuff

Black Ferns assistant coach Wes Clarke says they can catch up to England and France for next year’s World Cup (FILE PHOTO).

The Black Ferns play the final test of their tour against world No 4 France in Castres on Sunday (NZ time) and host the World Cup in less than 11 months.

A schedule to prepare the Black Ferns for the showpiece tournament hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s expected to include tests against Australia, Canada and the United States, among others.

Clarke said they would be adequately prepared for their World Cup defence after this season’s disruption because of Covid-19, which forced Auckland’s three teams to pull out of the Farah Palmer Cup and denied the Black Ferns tests against Australia before their European trip.

“First, there’ll be Super Rugby Aupiki [in February and March], which is essentially a four-week competition, but there’s a pre-season game and training weeks, too,” Clarke said.

“Then, we’ve got a number of test matches planned.”

Clarke referenced a comeback the Black Ferns made in 2017 ahead of winning their fifth global title. He said they can turn things around in time for the World Cup.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Black Ferns centre Stacey Fluhler looking for space against France in Pau.

“We had a terrible test match against Canada that we won [28-16 in Wellington], but it was really ugly, and then England beat us [29-21] in Rotorua,” he said.

“Later that year, we went on to win the World Cup, beating England [41-32] in the final.

“We’ve done poorly before and are happy that we’re on track.

“We’re also extremely happy with our debutants [on this tour].”

Clarke also repeated Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore’s suggestion that England and France are more “battle-hardened” after their regular encounters during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alongside Clarke was captain Les Elder, who said they wanted to see a huge shift in their “energy and intent” after struggling to match the speed and intensity of their northern rivals.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

France beat the Black Ferns 38-13 last weekend.

“We also want to string together more of the good stuff,” Elder said.

“We want to retain the ball, get some territory, and do what we know we’re capable of. We have probably battled against ourselves a little bit.”

The Black Ferns must also improve defensively and cope with a rolling maul that France, like England, utilised effectively.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

The Black Ferns face losing four tests for the first time.

They have blooded 13 debutants in Europe and their three remaining uncapped players – prop Tanya Kalounivale, halfback Iritana Hohaia and loose forward Kendra Reynolds – are set for test debuts in Castres.

Promising lock Maia Ross and No 8 Liana Mikaele Tu’u are likely to retain their places after impressing on their first tour.

Rookie loose forward Dhys Faleafaga is ruled out after suffering another head knock.

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