Coach in awe of ‘incredible’ comeback story

Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith is in awe of No.8 Charmaine McMenamin, who has been named to start in the Rugby World Cup final just one year after having spinal surgery.

McMenamin was named in the New Zealand lineup to replace Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, who suffered a thumb injury in the team’s thrilling semi final win over France.

“I don’t think she would have ever dreamed that she would be here after the spinal operation,” Smith said ahead of Saturday’s decider against favorites England.

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“Just being able to play again, even at club level, was probably her dream. Incredible.

“We put her in a trial, she was in the trial team that got beat by 50 points, but she really showed out. We picked her from that and gave her an opportunity.

“She’s very smart, she loves the game, and you’ve just got to really be proud of her mental toughness to be able to come back and play at this level and perform well.”

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McMenamin’s inclusion is the only change to the New Zealand run-on XV.

The Black Ferns are defending champions goal against a Red Roses team that is the most dominant in the history of international rugby – men’s or women’s.

England have won a world record 30 straight Tests and are trying to avenge their 41-32 loss to New Zealand in the 2017 World Cup final.

Auckland’s 50,000-seater Eden Park has been sold out for the match.

Smith, the former All Blacks coach, returned serve at England mentor Simon Middleton who had attempted to pile pressure on the home team through the media.

“I’ve been coaching for 36 years and Simon Middleton is just a newcomer,” Smith said.

“He’s trying to put pressure on by saying we might be intimidated by that (having such a big home crowd). We’re just really enjoying it and I think we’re in a place that probably a lot of people wouldn’t have thought we’d get.

“There was hope and what we did against France was outstanding. We’ve got probably the best team of all time ready for the weekend so we’re just enjoying it and we know what we’ve got to do to win it. Every single individual has got to be at her very best on Saturday.”

The loss of fullback Helena Rowland to a leg injury has forced Middleton to reorganize his back three for the final.

Rowland was taken from the field on a stretcher during England’s semifinal win over Canada last weekend.

Ellie Kildunne will take over in the No.15 jersey while Lydia Thompson moves to the left wing in place of Claudia MacDonald.

Holly Aitchison will start at center in place of Tatyana Heard while Heard and MacDonald drop to the bench which includes six forwards.

The match will likely produce a contrast between England’s forward oriented style and New Zealand’s expansive back play.

“When things get tough, this team knows how to get going,” Middleton said.

“That is why we are relishing Saturday and all that it will bring.

“There can be no bigger challenge in sport than to play the world champions in their own backyard in front of a sell-out crowd — 99.9 per cent of which will be forming part of the opposition. Great teams don’t fear those challenges, they embrace them and meet them head on. That’s what we intend to do.”

NEW ZEALAND (15-1): Renee Holmes, Ruby Tui, Stacey Fluhler, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Portia Woodman, Ruahei Demant (c), Kendra Cocksedge, Charmaine McMenamin, Sarah Hirini, Alana Bremner, Chelsea Bremner, Maiakawanakaukani Roos, Amy Rule, Georgia Ponsonby, Phillipa Love

Reservations: Luka Connor, Krystal Murray, Santo Taumata, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Kennedy Simon, Ariana Bayler, Hazel Tubic, Ayesha Leti-I’iga

ENGLAND (15-1): Ellie Kildunne, Lydia Thompson, Emily Scarratt, Holly Aitchison, Abby Dow, Zoe Harrison, Leanne Infante, Sarah Hunter (c), Marlie Packer, Alex Matthews, Abbie Ward, Zoe Aldcroft, Sarah Bern, Amy Cokayne, Vickii Cornborough

Reservations: Lark Davies, Maud Muir, Shaunagh Brown, Cath O’Donnell, Poppy Cleall, Sadia Kabeya, Claudia MacDonald, Tatyana Heard

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