This weekend’s fixtures feature a re-run of the semi-final of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 and an all-Six Nations clash between two sides that have produced eye-catching results in the last 12 months.
At Soldier Field in Chicago, the USA Women’s Eagles take on New Zealand’s Black Ferns for the first time since they were downed 45-12 at WRWC 2017 in Ireland. The match kicks will kick-off a three-game triple header which also features the USA men's national team against the Maori All Blacks and the test between Ireland and Italy.
Meanwhile, in Calvisano, Italy host Scotland on Sunday in a match that could have major repercussions on their position in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.
After showing incredible form for Wellington in the Farah Palmer Cup, Ayesha Leti-I'iga will make her much anticipated #BlackFerns debut after being named to start on the wing in this weekend's Test against USA.#USAvNZL #TheRugbyWeekend pic.twitter.com/MQ1mbcmbtw— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) November 1, 2018
USA (5) v NEW ZEALAND (1)
USA Women’s Eagles coach Rob Cain hands debuts to six players for his first match in charge with another seven uncapped players named on the bench. Prop Azniv Nalbandian and blindside flanker Rachel Johnson are the newcomers in the pack, while there are four rookies in an inexperienced backline. Carly Waters and Gabriella Cantorna form a new-look half-back combination and Kaitlyn Broughton and Emily Henrich get first outings on the wing and centre respectively. Second-row Stacey Bridges is the most experienced player in the line-up with 33 caps.
By contrast, the Black Ferns starting XV boasts 325 caps between them. They will be led once again by hooker Fiao'o Faamausili on the occasion of her 55th test. Faamausili – who today has been nominated for the World Rugby Women's 15s Player of the Year 2018 accolade – is one of six surviving members from the pack that took on the Women’s Eagles in Belfast last year, while Kendra Cocksedge, Renee Wickliffe, Stacey Waaka and Selica Winiata return in the backs.
Wellington speedster Ayesha Leti-I'iga a prolific try-scorer in club rugby this season, with 41 tries in just 13 matches, is handed her debut on the left wing. Another fast, young Wellingtonian, 20-year-old Monica Tagoai, will make her debut if called upon from the bench.
- This is the first time the two nations will meet on US soil
- New Zealand have won 10 of the 11 tests played between the nations, the USA’s only victory coming in 1991 when they won 7-0 in Cardiff in a WRWC semi-final
- New Zealand are on a seven-game winning run dating back to June 2017 when they were beaten 29-21 by England in Rotorua
- This is the USA Women’s Eagles first test since they lost the bronze medal match at WRWC 2017 to France, 31-23
- USA were the inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup winners in 1991, while New Zealand are five-time champions
Neither side can gain any ground in terms of rankings positions, although USA could pick up as many as three rating points if they beat the world champions convincingly.
ITALY (7) v SCOTLAND (11)
Italy are captained for the first time by full-back Manuela Furlan, the second most experienced player in the Azzurre XV with 66 caps. Only Sara Barattin has made more test appearances, the scrum-half preparing to don the famous blue jersey for the 83rd time. In total, the Azzurre line-up boasts 465 caps between them with tight-head prop Lucia Gai another to have passed the half-century. There are two debutants among the replacements, however, in outside backs, Benedetta Mancini and Camilla Sarasso.
Coach Shane Munro has introduced fresh talent into his squad with Darlington Mowden Park forward Lisa Cockburn in line to make her debut for Scotland. In addition, Rachel McLachlan, Lucy Winter, Caitlin Sedgeworth, Mairi Forsyth, Bryony Nelson and Annabel Sergeant will add to the challenge for places. Nelson will be joining her sister Helen for the first time in the 15s squad after playing for Scotland Sevens together earlier in the year.
- Italy have 11 wins to Scotland’s six in the head-to-head with one draw in 18 previous meetings
- It is nearly two decades since Scotland won on Italian soil. A 43-15 victory in 1999 was the last time they tasted success
- Italy finished the Women’s Six Nations 2018 with back-to-back wins – against Scotland and Wales
- Scotland won away in March (15-12 v Ireland in Dublin) for the first time since they defeated Sweden 63-8 in April 2013
With just over a third of a rating point available to them for a big win, it is not possible for Italy to climb any higher than their current position of seventh. However, the Azzurre will fall one place to eighth (below Ireland) with a narrow defeat and four places if the margin is greater than 15 points. That would leave them at their lowest-ever ranking of 11th. Scotland will climb two places – into the top 10 for the first time – if they win by more than 15 points.
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