While a multitude of new caps will be awarded on Friday during the first round of the Oceania Rugby Women's Championship in Lautoka, Tonga, with Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and the host nation making a return to international rugby after an absence of between two and 12 years, a tried and tested Black Ferns side will take to the field in Grenoble a day later looking to seal a 2-0 series win against Women's Six Nations holders France.
That is just one of six matches taking place in Europe this weekend with England versus Canada, a re-enactment of the WRWC 2014 final, arguably the pick of the bunch. Elsewhere, Hong Kong gain more international experience with a game against Wales in Cardiff, Ireland take on the USA in Dublin, Spain play South Africa in Villajoyosa and Switzerland are up against Czechia in the Rugby Europe Women's Trophy.
France (3) v New Zealand (1)
France have made four changes of personnel – split evenly between forwards and backs – and one positional due to injuries and sevens call-ups. Loose-head prop Lise Arricastre is a new addition to the front row, while Céline Ferer packs down at openside in place of Julie Annery. In the backs, Maëlle Filopon replaces Nassira Konde at outside centre and Ian Jason gets a run out on the left wing with Caroline Boujard moving to full-back.
Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore has named an unchanged starting line-up as New Zealand attempt to back up last week's 14-0 win in Toulon. Auckland Storm's Natahlia Moors is set to make her debut in Grenoble, however, after being named on the bench. Captain and hooker Fiao’o Faamausili extends her Black Ferns test appearance record to 57 matches.
- New Zealand won the first test 14-0 in Toulon last Friday, inflicting on France their first defeat of the year
- This is the sixth test between the teams, the Black Ferns have won the previous five
- The Black Ferns are on a nine-match winning streak
It is not possible for New Zealand to lose top spot, but France could move up to number two in the world if they win and England lose badly against Canada. Les Bleues will fall one place in defeat.
England (2) v Canada (4)
England head coach Simon Middleton has made 10 changes to the starting 15 that easily accounted for the USA last week. Saracens back-rows Poppy Cleall and Marlie Packer come into the pack, while Rachael Burford returns to make her 80th England appearance and Millie Wood earns a first start on the wing, having previously made her three appearances for the Red Roses at centre. Among those players moving from last weekend’s bench to the starting XV, Sarah Hunter returns at number eight to captain the side, while Bristol Bears centre Lucy Attwood earns her first start for the Red Roses, having come off the bench in her debut during Friday’s 57-5 win over the Women's Eagles.
Veteran hooker Laura Russell is one of 11 players with WRWC 2017 experience in the Canadian squad, among them Olivia DeMerchant and Tyson Beaukeboom, who are set to win their 33rd caps, and vice-captain and full-back Elissa Alarie. Magali Harvey, player of the tournament at WRWC 2014, lines up on the right wing for Canada's first international of the year.
- England are on a five-match winning streak against Canada dating back to July 2016
- England won the last meeting 69-19 in November last year, Jess Breach scoring five tries on debut
- England's average winning margin from the last three tests is 54 points
- Canada ended 20 years without a win when they won back-to-back matches in July/August 2013 but have only won once since then: 52-17 in Utah, USA in July 2016
England cannot overtake New Zealand at the top whatever the outcome of their respective matches. Canada will swap places with France if they win and France lose or draw against New Zealand and can even climb as high as second, replacing England, if they win by more than 15 points. England will drop two to fourth if they are badly beaten and France overturn last week's result and beat the Black Ferns.
Ireland (8) v USA (5)
Adam Griggs has included four uncapped players in a match-day 23 that has a balance between new talent and experience. Lauren Delany and Laura Sheehan make their test debuts at full-back and wing respectively, while hooker Emma Hooban and back-three player Beibhinn Parsons will win their first caps if called upon from the bench. Parsons will become the youngest player to wear the green jersey in a test match in the modern era as she only turns 17 later this month. The vastly experienced Ciara Griffin will lead the side from number eight and is joined in the back-row by another stalwart of the team, openside flanker Claire Molloy, while hooker Sarah Mimnagh makes her return to the green jersey for the first time in three years. Leadership in the backs comes from 34-year-old centre Sene Naoupu.
The USA line-up will be announced later.
- The head-to-head stands at four wins to the USA and two to Ireland
- Ireland won the last meeting 23-17 at WRWC 2014
- The USA won the only previous match held on Irish soil: 23-5 at Thomond Park in Limerick in January 2006
USA will fall one place if they lose by any margin, swapping places with Australia. Neither side can improve their rating even if they come away with big wins.
Wales (9) v Hong Kong (23)
Wales coach Rowland Phillips has opted to make eight changes to the team that started the 19-5 win over South Africa. Full-back Lauren Smyth, who made her debut aged 17 last weekend, keeps her place along with fellow backs Jasmine Joyce, Alecs Donovan and fly-half Robyn Wilkins, while Alicia McComish makes her first start at inside-centre and Lisa Neumann is given a run on the left wing. In the forwards, another 17-year-old in Manon Johnes, who came on early off the bench last Saturday to win her first senior cap, will make her first start on the blindside flank. She will join the back-row pair of Beth Lewis, who retains her place on the openside, and number eight and captain Sioned Harries. There is a new-look front-row of Cara Hope, Kelsey Jones and Cerys Hale, while debutant Gwen Crabb partners Mel Clay in the second-row.
Hong Kong coach Jo Hull has made a number of changes that she hopes will result in an improved performance from her side after last week's heavy loss against Spain in Alicante. Centre Grace Hood starts in place of Sarah Lucas, who drops to the bench, while Hong Kong sevens phenomenon Stephanie Chan will get her first start for Hong Kong at full-back and U20s star Jessica Eden earns her first cap for Hong Kong on the wing. Flanker Pun Wai-yan comes in for Maggie Au Yeung who moves to the opposite side of the back row, pushing Winnie Siu to the bench where she is joined by prop Debby Lam Ka-wai. Experienced scrum half Sham Wai-sum has also been called up on the bench for Wales, along with utility back Lau Sze-wa.
- Wales won the only previous encounter between the teams, 39-15 at WRWC 2017 in Dublin
- Last week's 19-5 win over South Africa was only Wales' third at home in nine games
- Wales are the only team that Hong Kong have scored more than one try against in their last six tests
- Hong Kong only fielded one capped international in their most recent outing, a 60-5 defeat to Spain in Alicante
It is not possible for Wales to improve their rating or their position with victory against a Hong Kong side more than 21 points behind them in the rankings. They can, however, fall to 10th place if they lose by more than 15 points and South Africa draw with Spain. Hong Kong will climb one place in the event of a draw, or by two if they win by any margin.
Spain (10) v South Africa (13)
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Isabel Rico is replaced at loose-head prop by Saioa Jaurena and hands over the captaincy to flanker Paula Medin as one of six changes to the side that beat Hong Kong 60-5. The only other change to the pack comes is the back row where Maitane Salinas is given the number six jersey. While the half-back partnership of Patricia Garcia and Maria Ahis remains intact and Alba Vinuesa returns on the right wing, the composition of the backline is different to last week. Marina Bravo and Lide Erbina line up in midfield, Maria Garcia is selected on the left wing and Iera Echebarria gets a run out at full-back.
Babalwa Latsha will lead the Springbok Women’s team against Spain in the absence of regular captain Nolusindiso Booi as injuries force coach Stanley Raubenheimer to make five changes to his side, with three new faces among the forwards and two in the backline. Booi suffered a knee injury at training, which placed her on a growing injury list that includes Zinhle Ndawonde (broken finger), Aphiwe Ngwevu (knock to the arm) and Snenhlanhla Shozi (concussion). Karthy Dludla and Sinazo Mcatshulwa will form a new second-row pairing with Booi out and Bernice Strydom being managed off the bench due to a knee niggle, while Lindelwa Gwala replaces Annique Geswind at hooker and Kamohele Makoele takes over the void left by Mcatshulwa’s switch to the second row. In the backline, Zintle Mpupha moves from fly-half to centre alongside Demi Nel, as cover for Ndawonde, which will see Kirsten Conrad take over in the number 10 jersey.
- Spain scored 60 points in a test for only the third time in their history against Hong Kong last week
- Last week's game against Wales, a 19-5 defeat, was South Africa's first test since 2014
- This is only the second time the sides have met, Spain winning 36-0 at WRWC 2014
Spain can only improve their position in victory if Ireland and/or Wales lose or both draw. A beaten Spain will drop outside of the world's top 10 if they lose by more than 15 points and Wales lose by a similarly big margin to Hong Kong. A win for South Africa would be accompanied by a two-place gain. They can still move up one place if they lose and Samoa are beaten by the lower-ranked Papua New Guinea.
OCEANIA RUGBY WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP 2018
Papua New Guinea (42) v Samoa (12)
Papua New Guinea are captained by Debbie Kaore, one of four players to return from the last starting line-up against Fiji two years ago. Kaore played at number eight that day in Suva but is selected at inside centre. The other returnees are the front-row duo, Jane Buku and Norah Wartovo, and fly-half Margaret Naua.
A new-look Manu Sina team will take to the field against PNG with the entire matchday 23 making their test debuts. Openside flanker Masuisui Pauaraisa leads her country into a new era. Only three players from the 26-strong squad for the Oceania Championships have prior experience at this level: 41-year-old Lorina Papali'i, who featured at WRWC 2002 and 2006, while Rita Tau and Cynthia Apineru took part in the 2014 event. They have all been overlooked, however, for this opening match.
- This is the first meeting between the nations
- Papua New Guinea's only previous test match ended in a 37-10 defeat to Fiji in Suva in a WRWC 2017 qualifier in November 2016
- Samoa are playing in their first test since they defeated Kazakhstan 31-0 at WRWC 2014
Samoa will fall one place if they lose – even if South Africa also lose to Spain. They will also fall one place in victory if South Africa beat Spain. Papua New Guinea will climb seven places to 35th if they beat Samoa or two places in the event of a draw.
Fiji (30) v Tonga (39)
Fiji sevens captain Ana Roqica is set to make her test debut at scrum-half in a line-up bearing little resemblance to the one that beat Papua New Guinea 37-10 the last time the Oceania Women's Championship was held in 2016. Only loose-head prop Lailanie Burnes and second-rower Laisa Taga survive from that game with another sevens specialist, test debutant Rusila Nagasau, given the honour of captaining her country from outside centre.
Tonga will be led out for their first test in 12 years by Auckland hooker Va'Inga Moimoi. Unsurprisingly, there are no survivors from the last outing in 2006 with the Tonga line-up made up entirely of debutants.
- Fiji won 52-5 the only other time the sides met in April 2006
- The only other test played by Tonga ended in a 60-5 defeat to Samoa
- It is almost two years since Fiji last took to the field, losing both Asia/Oceania qualifiers for WRWC 2017 to Japan and tournament hosts Hong Kong
While Fiji cannot improve their position as there are only marginal gains on offer for a win, they can close the gap on Norway above them to just six-hundredths of a point. Tonga can climb as many as seven places in victory, taking them above Fiji in the process, if they win by over 15 points. Fiji will fall two places if they draw or suffer a narrow defeat. Meanwhile, Tonga will fall two places if they lose and Papua New Guinea also win.
The World Rugby Women's Rankings update at 12:00 GMT every Monday
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