12 May, 2024 05:06 AM4 mins to read

Hannah King, Ruby Tui and Mererangi Paul celebrate a second-half try. Photo / Photosport

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Photo New Zealand Herald

As the Black Ferns hunt for their DNA and look to build depth in their squad, their 57-5 win over the United States on Saturday saw them take a big step towards both.

With 2024 the second phase of a three-year plan to be peaking for next year’s World Cup in England, Black Ferns director of rugby Allan Bunting said after just one game, he already has “a fair idea” of what that DNA they’re looking for is.

“When we do get quick ball, we go forward and we play on top and we got some really good skills out there and some exciting backs. I think we know what it is now,” Bunting said.

“There were a few things that we wanted to work on and our ladies were quite composed around that. We saw a few more kicks and trying to get down to the right area which was pleasing to see, and some of our skill out there was exciting.

“You should have heard us in the box for some of those tries. It was really exciting to watch.”

Some rampaging work through the middle from the forwards set the platform for a sizzling opening stanza as some of the skill and speed in the backline got to take centre stage and they defended well through the second half.

The test also saw three players on debut settle into their work, with Maama Vaipulu and Maia Joseph starting at lock and halfback respectively, before Hannah King came into the match late at first five-eighths, Ruahei Demant moving into the midfield.

Mererangi Paul made the most of her opportunity at fullback; scoring a hat-trick, assisting on another try and putting in a solid performance with her defence and positioning.

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Photo New Zealand Herald

With incumbent fullback Renee Holmes unavailable for the test due to injury, Bunting was left with a few options in the No 15 jersey. Both Holmes and Ruby Tui were used in the role during the 2022 World Cup, with Holmes making the jersey hers in 2023. In the two tests Holmes was not named last year, Patricia Maliepo and Tenika Willison got the starts.

Tui [right wing] and Maliepo [reserve] were both in the matchday 23 for the test against the USA, but it was Paul who got the nod at fullback. It seemed a bit of a wildcard decision as Paul didn’t make a single start at fullback for the Chiefs Manawa during Super Rugby Aupiki and was mostly used on the wing and at centre - but the decision came up trumps.

“She did well today,” Bunting said of Paul’s performance. “Fifteen is a different position, she’s played a bit through Aupiki, but for her to go out there and play really well, she’s elusive, she’s an exciting player with great skills and she defended well today too, so really happy with the way she played at fullback.”

Paul scored all three of her tries inside the opening 20 minutes of the game. The first saw her rewarded for running in support as Tui got a lovely offload away close to the line. For the second, Paul pulled off a chip-and-chase over the last USA defender - ignoring Tui open on the wing beside her - before collecting a beautiful cross-field kick for her third. She later found Tui on her inside for a gift try.

“When is Ruby not shouting for it?” Paul quipped when asked if Tui was calling for the ball ahead of her second try.

“She was all good. The wingers have been helping me out quite a bit in the 15 jersey so I felt really comfortable going into it.”

As for her first run in the Black Ferns’ No 15 jersey, Paul said she enjoyed the opportunity to grow her game.

“I like learning and growing in spaces. I’ve learned a lot on the wing, so I think finding my feet in 15 would be good for myself just to learn different positions and be an option in the backfield as well.

“Us outsides, we have a really good connection. We help each other out and want the best out of each other, so pushing each other is a good thing for us.”

Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.

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