A Māori leader for the Black Ferns

By Regan Paranihi

Lesley 'Les' Elder of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Maniapoto is leading the Black Ferns squad for the first time in their clash against the New Zealand Barbarians.

This will also be the first time in four years the Black Ferns will be led by someone different.

"It's a huge honour to be able to play this role within the team, obviously. I am very humbled and privileged," says Elder.

"I guess for us, it's just wrapping our arms around the girls and making them feel comfortable in our environment and continuing the stuff that those leaders that you've talked about have created."

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This is the fifth camp this year and Elder says it's a great way to develop players in the team.

"Throughout the year we have had wide squads of up to 40 to 50 players and that's kind of been narrowed down to where we are now so it's been a good opportunity to expose girls to this level," she says.

Her career began when she was growing up in her hometown of Taumarunui, and now she can see the benefits.

"I played in the under 14's boys' team, and the following year we had a girls' team and started playing rugby with the ladies, and then from there made the Waikato secondary schools, made my debut for Waikato women's at 17, and then moved to Australia and played over there, before coming back and getting back into rugby back here."

In 2016, Elder thought her dream of being a professional rugby player was over when she suffered a severe knee injury.

"When I got injured I thought that was my rugby done, so to be able to come back and go to the world cup in 2017 and still be in the team now, I'm pretty grateful for that, but, yeah, it took a bit of hard work."

The Black Ferns know what they need to do in order to prepare for their international tour next month.

"You can expect to see fast, physical rugby, that's kind of the way we like to play, so that's how we are going to play this year too."

The Black Ferns have one more game against the New Zealand Barbarians squad before leaving for Canada next month.