Counties Energy Heat player Mererangi Paul is set to make her Black Ferns debut this Thursday against Australia at Dolphins Stadium in Brisbane.
Paul has been named to start on the right wing for the Pacific Four and O’Reilly Cup opener on Thursday night.
The Pukekohe utility back enjoyed a terrific Super Rugby Aupiki season with the Chiefs Manawa and earned a Black Ferns contract as a result.
Counties Energy Heat teammate Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu starts at halfback.
With the start of a new era for the Black Ferns, five other debutants have been named in the Black Ferns first Test of 2023. Bay of Plenty loosehead prop Kate Henwood and former New Zealand Rugby League representative Katelyn Vahaakolo have been named in the starting XV. Hurricanes Poua halfback Iritana Hohaia, Matatu first five-eighth Rosie Kelly and Black Ferns Sevens player Tenika Willison are also in-line to make their Test debuts off the bench.
Bunting congratulated the debutants on their selection.
“Each of these ladies have been impressive on and off the field and now have the opportunity to represent their country, it will be a special occasion for them and their whānau and one they should be proud of. We are all excited for them and looking forward seeing how they go.”
A powerful forward pack will see Henwood combine with starting hooker Georgia Ponsonby and tighthead Tanya Kalounivale. The formidable Rugby World Cup locking duo of Maiakawanakaulani Roos and Chelsea Bremner will complete the tight five. Alana Bremner will start at blindside, with Black Ferns Co-Captain Kennedy Simon named at openside and Liana Mikaele Tu'u at No.8 completing an experienced forward pack.
In the backs, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and Black Ferns co-Captain Ruahei Demant have been named as the starting halves combination. Sylvia Brunt and Amy du Plessis will cover the midfield at second-five and centre respectively. The back three will see Vahaakolo and Paul on the wings, with Renee Holmes named at fullback.
In the reserves, an experienced replacement front row of Luka Connor, Krystal Murray and Amy Rule will be a force off the bench. While lock Joanah Ngan Woo and loose forward Kendra Reynolds will inject plenty of energy in the forward pack.
An energetic trio of Hohaia, Kelly and Willison will be eager to impress off the bench and embrace the opportunity in the black jersey.
Bunting said that he believes the fresh looking 23 selected are energised to kick-off their first Test of the year.
“Although our time together has been short in my eyes, we have maximised our connection and foundations for our game this year and we are looking forward to seeing how we shape up for this week’s Test against the Wallaroos.
“It marks a new dawn for the Black Ferns as we not only kick off our 2023 campaign but begin building to the next Rugby World Cup. Our coaching team have selected an exciting team, that we believe can go out there and play our style of game with freedom.”
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