Kendra Cocksedge was named in the Black Ferns’ 32-strong World Cup squad. Photo/Getty Images
The Black Ferns know they’re going into the Rugby World Cup facing an unfamiliar pressure.
For the first time, the Black Ferns will play the World Cup on home soil, and enter the fray as
the defending champions. While their form coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t always been great, they have taken strides this year under director of rugby Wayne Smith and his coaching crew.
But although they haven’t been beaten this year, they haven’t had a chance to test themselves against the likes of France and England, who come into the tournament as favorites after dealing to the Kiwi team late in 2021.
Since that tour, there has been plenty of change in the Black Ferns, both in coaching staff and players, and veteran halfback Kendra Cocksedge said they had addressed what would be awaiting them when the tournament kicked off in October.
“We’re going to embrace that,” she said of the pressure her side will face throughout the tournament.
“We’ve talked about it as a team, and the team is so whanau oriented that it’s really special we get to do this at home. That can obviously put extra pressure on players in small things like your family wanting to see you on game day, ‘have you got any more tickets?’, and those small things that chip away at you. I think there’s definitely going to be an element of it, but we’re not going to shy away from it.
“There’s something really special about this one; having a World Cup on home turf – holy heck that’s exciting.”
The Black Ferns have named a young and exciting squad for the tournament, with a focus on players who are able to handle a high-tempo brand of rugby.
Nineteen of the 32-strong squad have played fewer than 10 tests, while seven players in the squad are aged 22 or younger.
“It’s a good team; I’m really excited about the side,” says Cocksedge. “It’s a lot of youth in there who have shown what they’ve got this year leading into this.”
For Cocksedge, it will be her fourth and final Rugby World Cup campaign as she will be hanging up the boots after a long and decorated career at the tournament’s conclusion.
As well as being a veteran presence on the pitch, the 34-year-old has taken it upon herself to help the less experienced players in the squad prepare for what comes with being a top-level athlete off the pitch as well as on it .
She said the criticism that comes at the top is something every athlete has to deal with, but being able to deal with that isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone.
“You’ve got the keyboard warriors commenting on posts and commenting on the game. I look at it and laugh, but I know some girls look at it and can take it to heart,” she said.
“It’s quite scary sometimes to read it, but I just tell the young ones not even look at it; to just stay away from it and you don’t need to see that stuff. That’s grown, right? For me when I first started, social media wasn’t really a big thing, but now it’s right in front of you and it’s the first thing you look at.
“Even me, once the World Cup squad got announced, I was like ‘I’m going to go look at the comments’ because I laugh at them. People saying like ‘where’s Michaela Blyde?’ Like, come on – she only plays sevens – or asking where someone else is who hasn’t played for years or something. You just know they’re not really following the game very closely.
“I just always protect the young ones not to get caught up in reading the comments.”