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Maia Joseph named to start for Black Ferns debut
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Maia Joseph named to start for Black Ferns debut

Maia Joseph will realize her international dream sooner than expected.

The exciting Otago halfback has been named to start for the Black Ferns in the opening test in the Pacific Four Series against the United States in Hamilton on Saturday afternoon.

It represents a phenomenal rise for Joseph, who will go from prospect to nationally contracted player to test rugby player in double-quick time.

She will follow in the footsteps of her father, Jamie, who played 30 games (including 20 tests) for the All Blacks before coaching the Highlanders and Japan.

Joseph will be joined by two other debutants at Waikato Stadium.

Super Rugby Aupiki stand-out lock Maama Mo’onia Vaipulu is in the starting XV, while young first five Hannah King is set to debut off the bench.

Black Ferns coach Allan Bunting congratulated the debutants on their selection.

“Each of these ladies have continued to impress us since joining the Black Ferns squad,” Bunting said.

“They have worked diligently and it’s awesome to be able to reward them with this opportunity and enjoy the occasion.

“It will be a special moment for them and their whānau and one they should be proud of. We are all excited for them and have their backs this weekend.”

Joseph will have a steady presence beside her as she left with first five and co-captain Ruahei Demant.

Sylvia Brunt and Amy du Plessis will continue their outstanding combination in the midfield, the dynamic Katelyn Vaha’akolo and Ruby Tui are on the wings, and Mererangi Paul is named at fullback in the absence of Renee Holmes.

Veteran prop Kate Henwood joins Georgia Ponsonby and Tanya Kalounivale in the front row, backed by the Blues locking duo of Maiakawanakaulani Roos and Vaipulu.

A relentless loose forward trio of Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, co-captain Kennedy Simon and Layla Sae will complete a strong pack.

Experienced lock Charmaine Smith, recalled Matatū loose forward Kaipo Olsen-Baker and energetic halfback Iritana Hohaia will feature from the bench.

Bunting said the 23 women selected were energized and eager for the opportunity to open their test season at home.

“We have seen consistency in a few areas we have been working through and we are looking forward to seeing this in our opening test.

“Our coaching group have been pleased with the intent and focus our squad have been putting in. We know our ladies are eager to kick-off their international season and take on the USA in front of our fans at home.”

Black Ferns squad

Mererangi Paul, Ruby Tui, Amy du Plessis, Sylvia Brunt, Katelyn Vahaakolo, Ruahei Demant (co-captain), Maia Joseph, Layla Sae, Kennedy Simon (co-captain), Liana Mikaele Tu’u, Maama Mo’onia Vaipulu, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Tanya Kalounivale, Georgia Ponsonby, Kate Henwood. Reserves: Luka Connor, Chryss Viliko, Amy Rule, Charmaine Smith, Kaipo Olsen-Baker, Iritana Hohaia, Hannah King, Patrica Maliepo.