England will replace New Zealand as the number one side in the World Rugby Women's Rankings if they beat the Black Ferns in the International Rugby Women’s Series title decider at the Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday.
Both sides go into Saturday’s test with two wins each, the Black Ferns having beaten Australia 44-17 on Tuesday at Rugby Park in Christchurch and Canada 28-16 last Friday at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
England kicked off their campaign with a 53-10 win against Australia before going on to beat Canada 27-20.
A second win for the Red Roses in the space of four days would result in them picking up a total of 2.29 rating points to move them on to 92.46, just under half a point more than the Black Ferns, who have held the number one position since the rankings were introduced in February 2016.
“This series has allowed us to test ourselves against the best teams in the world,” reflected England coach Simon Middleton. “Coming into the final test, it’s now about making sure we deliver and don’t leave anything on the field. It’s our last big game and opportunity to put in a good performance before we head back to England and focus on final preparations for the Women’s Rugby World Cup and we want to make it count.”
SEVENTY UP FOR WATERMAN
Middleton has made seven changes to the team that lined up against Canada, with the starting 15 boasting an impressive 850 caps and a bench with 308 starts between them.
Scrum-half Natasha Hunt starts alongside Katy Mclean, who captained the Red Roses to victory over Australia, while Rachael Burford comes in at inside-centre with Kay Wilson on the left wing and Danielle Waterman (pictured) at full-back to make her 70th international appearance since making her England debut in 2003. In the pack, Sarah Bern returns to the front row with prop Justine Lucas on the bench, while Tamara Taylor starts in the second-row with Alex Matthews in at blindside flanker.
“The game against the Black Ferns will be a major challenge and one that we want to face head on. We want the players to go out an express themselves and show what they are capable of,” Middleton added. “We have full confidence in our squad and looking at final selection for this game, it’s a good blend of experience and younger players. We are looking forward to a big performance against the Black Ferns.”
NEW ZEALAND EXPECT PHYSICAL TEST
New Zealand beat England 25-20 when they last met at the Twickenham Stoop last November and Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore is expecting another physical encounter as both teams wanted to finish the series unbeaten.
“We’re looking forward to Saturday. The English are a good side – they are world champions and have won their last two matches here in New Zealand," he said. “They had to fight pretty hard against the Canadians but we know they will bring physicality and they have some pace out on the edges. We will need to put in our best performance.
“For us it’s about improving week on week and we made a good step forward in our second game and I expect we will advance again on Saturday."
Rawinia Everitt and Linda Itunu return to the starting XV having fully recovered from injury and Chelsea Alley will make her first start of the year after sustaining an ankle injury in May’s trial.
“We wanted to try some different combinations as we look ahead to August’s World Cup and it’s important we do that now,” Moore said.
The match is followed by the Maori All Blacks’ encounter with the British and Irish Lions and Moore expects the large and vocal crowd to make the occasion a memorable one.
“We’re expecting a big crowd to come early and support both teams and it will be a fantastic night of rugby and a very special one for all four teams.”
AUSTRALIA MIX IT UP
Australia’s match with Canada at Smallbone Park in Rotorua is the first of the day as both sides go in search of their maiden wins in the series.
Wallaroos coach Paul Verrell has made nine changes to the side that ran out against New Zealand in Christchurch earlier in the week, as he and his staff continue to look at different combinations ahead of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017.
Queensland hooker Cheyenne Campbell has been named captain of the side for the first time, and will pack down in the front row alongside Violeta Tupuola and Evelyn Horomia. Rebecca Clough returns to the starting side in the second row alongside Millie Boyle, while Kiri Lingman gets her first start at blindside flanker.
In the backline, Cobie Jane-Morgan (pictured) returns to scrum-half after starting on the wing against New Zealand. Centre Sarah Riordan will earn her first start of the tour at outside centre, while wingers Natasha Haines and Nareta Marsters will form a new look back three with Samantha Treherne named at full-back.
“We’re continuing to develop combinations within the team as we build towards the World Cup. With this in mind, we have given opportunities to some players in this test against Canada," said Verrell. “We believe that this team will be competitive in what will be our final test before the World Cup in Ireland.”
CANADA CHANGE THREE
Canada coach Francois Ratier has made three changes to his starting XV as Jane Kirby, Frederique Rajotte and Brittany Waters come into the line-up.
Kirby will start at hooker with Carolyn McEwen and DaLeaka Menin at prop. Laura Russell drops into the second row with Kayla Mack while Jacey Grusnick, Karen Paquin and captain Kelly Russell form the back row.
Lori Josephson again starts at scrum-half while Emily Belchos moves back to fly-half after starting Canada’s last game at centre. It’ll be a Quebec connection on the wing as Rajotte joins Magali Harvey out wide while Waters and Amanda Thornborough play in the centres. Julianne Zussman occupies her usual spot at full-back.
Regardless of how they fare, neither side can improve their position, with Canada guaranteed to be in third place and Australia sixth when the rankings are updated at 12 noon UK time on Monday.
The climax of the International Women's Rugby Series will be streamed live on worldrugby.org.