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Rookie Black Ferns midfielder Amy du Plessis says she deserves to start – and she’s right

Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns v Australia. Where: Eden Park, Auckland. When: Saturday, October 8, 7:15pm. Live coverage: Spark Sport, live updates on Stuff. Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa)

Joseph Pearson is a sports reporter for Stuff

OPINION: Amy du Plessis made a bold, assertive statement after her selection for her Rugby World Cup debut.

“I truly believe that I deserve to be here,” the Black Ferns midfielder said.

Let’s not cut her down, because she is right.

The 23-year-old was born in South Africa but was raised in Southland after her family moved to Invercargill when she was seven.

Family, including her grandad and an auntie, she hasn’t seen for six years are flying in from Australia and South Africa to be a part of the world record crowd for their Rugby World Cup opener against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday.

Amy du Plessis will start at second five-eighth for the first time against Australia.

Sungmi Kim/Stuff

Amy du Plessis will start at second five-eighth for the first time against Australia.

She left the deep south last year to improve her chance of playing for the Black Ferns via Canterbury’s champion Farah Palmer Cup team, after starting with Otago, and she shifted to Christchurch.

What a move that’s been.

Her rugby career has taken off since her test debut against Canada in June, a 28-0 win in which she started and was excellent in Wayne Smith’s second match as coach.

Of the 15 players who have made their test debut for the Black Ferns in 2022, none has been as impressive as du Plessis.

She has been at centre in four tests and starts at second five-eighth for the first time against the Wallaroos.

Amy du Plessis scoring her first test against Australia in Christchurch in August.

Peter Meecham/Getty Images

Amy du Plessis scoring her first test against Australia in Christchurch in August.

Stacey Fluhler is the only personnel change to the starting side from the 95-12 rout of Japan in Auckland two weeks ago, but the most intriguing selection is du Plessis moving inside to No 12 with Fluhler at centre, where the sevens star has played most of her 21-test career.

Du Plessis has been getting mentoring advice from legendary All Black centre Conrad Smith and this week said she had asked the Black Ferns coaches about playing at 12.

To complement the talented and powerful outside backs, du Plessis is strong, skilful, with great handling and decision-making qualities to unleash Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui, Fluhler and fullback Renee Holmes down the flanks.

With a solid defensive game, too, it was impossible to leave her out of the team. She has also linked well with first five-eighth and captain Ruahei Demant and is keeping Theresa Fitzpatrick out of the 23 altogether.

Stacey Fluhler, left, congratulating Portia Woodman for one of her seven tries against Japan. Ruby Tui, right, likes this.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Stacey Fluhler, left, congratulating Portia Woodman for one of her seven tries against Japan. Ruby Tui, right, likes this.

Fitzpatrick is part of the unique Kiwi quintet to win every major honour in 15s and sevens, including the last 15s World Cup in 2017, but has dropped out of the side.

She is unlucky to miss out, but the Black Ferns need playmaking cover on the bench, with Hazel Tubic there for Saturday, and rookie Auckland midfielder Sylvia Brunt is a better impact player in reserve because of her powerful running game.

The midfield combination of du Plessis and Fluhler is an exciting pairing for pool matches the Black Ferns should win with ease against Australia, Wales and Scotland.

They should flourish and have plenty of attacking opportunities, with the speed of Tui and Woodman out wide, and the powerful Ayesha Leti-I’iga should recover from a calf injury soon.

Still, it’s a new combination that was only tested for 33 minutes against an incredibly poor defensive effort from Japan. The Black Ferns scored 15 tries in 80 minutes and nearly cracked 100 points, finishing on 95.

As is the case across the Black Ferns team, how each cog competes in the knockout stages against England or France will be critical in deciding the World Cup.

The forwards have a bigger task, literally, against two packs that monstered them on last year’s northern tour.

If the Black Ferns are to win the World Cup, they will need their outside backs to be in top form, too.

The pairing of du Plessis and Fluhler might be the key to unlocking that potential.

Black Ferns: Renee Holmes, Ruby Tui, Stacey Fluhler, Amy du Plessis, Portia Woodman, Ruahei Demant (c), Kendra Cocksedge; Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, Sarah Hirini, Charmaine McMenamin, Chelsea Bremner, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Amy Rule, Luka Connor, Phillipa Love. Reserves: Georgia Ponsonby, Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, Santo Taumata, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Kendra Reynolds, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Hazel Tubic, Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt.

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