Kiwi Ferns ready for Nines
Ahead of one of the biggest weekends in the history of women’s rugby league, Kiwi Ferns coach Rusty Matua will give his players free reign come kick-off against the Jillaroos at the NRL Auckland Nines.
After spending six weeks preparing for the three-match series against Australia, Matua believes his job is mostly complete now and that the experienced Ferns side would rise to the occasion.
"It's really about trusting them to play the game that is in front of them," said Matua, a veteran coach of both men’s and women’s teams in Auckland.
"We have a lot of experience; Laura Mariu with 16 years and Rona Peters with 12 years for example.
"I trust these girls and their instincts, and if they think we should shoot it wide on a play then we will do that.
"It's lovely to have that confidence in the players, and for them to have it in themselves to run those plays."
It has been a baptism of fire for New Zealanders, with most of the squad having no experience in the condensed version of the game.
Training runs this week focused on the intricacies of Nines, including quick transitions between attack and defence and adapting to the different rules.
"We have done the hard work and the conditioning and we are really confident that we have good fitness levels," Matua said.
"Obviously with it being nine-minute halves the time period is so short that we have to be very respectful of the ball and retaining possession.
"Also our transitions between handovers and restarts, we have to react really quickly and adjust to the new scenarios of the game.
"We have put defence at the top of our priority list, it's been defence, defence, defence.
"For our girls attack is a lot more natural, they have a lot more enthusiasm on attack, so probably 80 percent of our training in the build-up has focused on our defensive structure and technique.
"Defence is the biggest form of attack for us this weekend."
While the Ferns are well aware of the threat the Jillaroos present with their combination of power-based attack and quick shifts to either side, playing at an event as big as the Auckland Nines brings up other issues as well.
The Kiwi side are used to playing in front of crowds barely measuring in the hundreds, but at Eden Park they will have close to 45,000 watching each game, something one-Test rookie Hilda Peters is trying not to think about.
"I am very nervous, not about the game, more the atmosphere," the 31-year-old back-rower said.
"I am trying not to get overwhelmed.
"In women's league we don't have media coverage, we don't get televised on live TV, we don't play in front of 45,000 people… so I am trying not to think about it."
The Kiwi Ferns will play one match against the Jillaroos on the Saturday of the Auckland Nines weekend and two matches on the Sunday.
Check out the Jillaroos Nines squad.