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We’ll meet again . . .

Tour selection holds prospect of family reunion

RUGBY

Black Ferns selection could mean Renee Holmes sees a grandmother she thought she might never meet again.

Holmes, 21, hasn’t seen her grandma, Jean Scott (nee Mepham), in “about 15 years”.

With that in mind, Holmes says she would love to get a run at fullback against England.

“My grandma lives in London and we’re trying to tee it up for her to come to the game . . . I haven’t seen her in about 15 years.”

Holmes, who grew up in Gisborne, says it would be special to represent her country playing the game she loves in front of her grandmother.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant they hadn’t known whether they would see each other again.

Renee Holmes and Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, from Te Araroa, have been named in the Black Ferns squad for the Northern Hemisphere rugby tour.

While she was told of her selection at lunchtime last Friday, Holmes said the news still hadn’t quite sunk in.

When the squad members were announced on TV, she couldn’t believe her name was called out among the names of so many players she admired.

With last year’s Black Ferns campaign restricted to games against the New Zealand Barbarians, Holmes has yet to receive her first international test cap.

She earned her cap, Black Fern #221, against the Barbarians but says she feels different about this tour.

“It would be a different kind of feeling to be pulling on the fern against another country, in another country.”

The Black Ferns are to play England twice and France twice.

They are due to gather as a team for the first time on October 4.

In the meantime, Holmes is focusing on the Farah Palmer Cup provincial campaign with Waikato.

She says this lockdown was much smoother going than last time, with a bigger bubble and support structures in place.

Last year, she had just returned from a cancelled Japanese sevens season when New Zealand entered Covid-19 Alert Level 3. At the time, she was not sure whether to commit to the 15-a-side game or stay with sevens.

While she still feels like the new kid on the block, Holmes has established herself in the Black Ferns squad.

“I’ve got so many legends to the left and right of me, I’m put in a situation where I’m learning from the best of the best.

“It’s all excitement at this point. I will be a sponge soaking up everything around me.”

Ngata-Aerengamate is a key player in the Black Ferns squad — a charismatic leader who lifts the energy of the team on and off the field.

She is the only test-capped hooker named in the squad and, with 29 test caps, she is one of the more experienced players.

Ngata-Aerengamate has told The Gisborne Herald that playing in Europe has been a highlight of her rugby career.

She said top female players were treated like stars and played as the headline act, in front of over 17,000 fans. In New Zealand, they typically played as a curtain-raiser in front of empty stands.

Established Black Ferns loose forward Charmaine McMenamin, who hails from Gisborne, was unavailable for selection in the 34-strong squad, due to injury.

Another Gisborne-bred player, loose forward Kaipo Olsen-Baker, made the 2020 squad but was not selected for the tour.

She did not play the 2021 Farah Palmer Cup season. Stuff reported that while she was playing club rugby in April, she suffered a potentially serious knee injury.

Tour fixtures —

Black Ferns v England: weekend of October 30/31, venue to be confirmed.

Black Ferns v England: weekend of November 6/7, venue TBC.

Black Ferns v France: November 13, Stade du Hameau, Pau.

Black Ferns v France: November 20, Stade Pierre-Fabre, Castres.

Black Fern #221 Renee Holmes: It has been a week since she was told she had made the Black Ferns’ rugby squad for a four-match European tour in October/November but the news is still sinking in for Gisborne’s Renee Holmes. The 21-year-old fullback follows in the recent bootsteps of such Gisborne-produced New Zealand internationals as George Bridge, in Australia with the All Blacks, and Charmaine McMenamin, who is unavailable for the Black Ferns due to injury. The tour, featuring games against England and France, will be extra special for Holmes as her grandmother lives in London. Holmes has not seen her nan in about 15 years and becaue of the global pandemic thought she may never see her again. Te Araroa’s Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, a member of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup-winning squad, is also in the Black Ferns for the tour. The experienced hooker will add to her 29 tests in the black jersey. Picture by Kane Hames
BIG DAY: Renee Holmes and proud dad Laurie Holmes at the Possibles-versus-Probables Black Ferns trial last November. Renee played for the Probables. Picture supplied