A busy weekend of women’s rugby awaits as six of the top seven teams in the World Rugby Women's Rankings take to the pitch while regional spoils are decided and preparation for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 continues apace.
On Saturday, Australia host Japan in the first match of a two-test series while Kenya travel to Uganda to contest the second leg of this year’s Women’s Elgon Cup. All four sides have New Zealand 2021 very much at the forefront of their minds.
In San Diego on Sunday, the winners of Women’s Rugby Super Series 2019 will be crowned as England defend their unbeaten start to the tournament against world champions New Zealand before hosts USA take on France.
The Super Series has made a thrilling return to the international calendar over the last fortnight, and it is fitting that everything remains up for grabs as the action switches to the Torero Stadium on Sunday.
New Zealand and England kick off the final day’s play, and both have hopes of ending it as winners of the 2019 tournament.
England provisionally overtook the Black Ferns atop the World Rugby Women’s Rankings with their narrow win over France on Wednesday, and they will be keen to rubber-stamp top spot when the teams meet in San Diego.
Simon Middleton’s Red Roses go into the final day unbeaten and with a three-point cushion at the top of the series standings, they'll secure the title if they win.
However, England have been forced to recover from half-time deficits in their two previous matches – two-point wins over Canada and France – and New Zealand, who were beaten by Les Bleues in their last outing, will be confident of overhauling the team they beat 41-32 in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 final.
Once the champions have been crowned, hosts USA take centre stage as the Women’s Eagles meet France to decide who walks away with the wooden spoon.
Both sides head into the final day with one win from their three games, the USA securing regional bragging rights against Canada last time out while France beat the Black Ferns for only the second time in their history last Saturday.
Les Bleues looked set to follow up that victory with a win against England on Wednesday as they built an 18-5 half-time lead, only to prove powerless to stop the Red Roses scoring 15 unanswered points after the break.
The Women’s Eagles staged a similar comeback to beat Canada by just two points and will want to end their home tournament on a high.
Australia v Japan
Wallaroos fans will get a glimpse into the future on Saturday when Australia kick off their two-test series against Japan in Newcastle with a squad boasting nine uncapped players.
Four debutants – hooker Averyl Mitchell, second-row Michaela Leonard and centres Ariana Hira-Herangi and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea – have been named in the starting XV, while a further five uncapped players could make their bows from the bench.
According to Sarah Riordan and Alisha Hewett, senior Wallaroos have been kept on their toes by the influx of new talent and one player in particular has come in for high praise.
Eighteen-year-old centre Lefau-Fakaosilea has been compared to Wallabies legend David Pocock by coach Dwayne Nestor, due to her game understanding and skills at the breakdown.
"For a girl who's 18 years old, her game sense and her knowledge around law and what she can and can't do, especially around the tackle zone with her ability to turn the ball over – it's like having a David Pocock in the midfield – she turns the ball over so effectively and is so strong,” Nestor said.
"I enjoyed giving her the news that she'd been selected knowing that she'd waited and been very patient. I love those conversations when I can actually say to someone – you are going to be representing your country on the weekend because the reactions of the girls warms your heart."
Australia's only previous meeting with Japan was at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 when Samantha Treherne scored two tries in a 29-15 win in Dublin. Japan ended that tournament in Ireland 11th after beating Hong Kong on the final day in what was their last test match.
Women's Elgon Cup
Kenya boast a healthy lead as they travel to Kampala to face Uganda in the second leg of the Women’s Elgon Cup 2019.
The Lionesses have won six of the previous nine series played between the two teams – the last of which was held in 2015 – and are currently ranked 31st in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings, 10 places higher than the Lady Cranes.
That gap was clearly in evidence on 22 June as Kenya raced into a 27-0 half-time lead before eventually triumphing 44-13 thanks in large part to four tries from veteran star Philadelphia Olando.
It means that Uganda must win by a margin of 31 points or more to wrestle back the Women’s Elgon Cup from their neighbours for the first time since 2013.
Both teams are using the two-test series as a warm-up for the four-team Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifier that will be held in South Africa in August and also features Madagascar.
Lionesses coach Felix Oloo, who has made seven changes to his starting line-up for the return game at Kyadondo RFC before the men's Elgon Cup decider, has warned his players against complacency.
"We are all about attack and scoring as many tries as possible. I believe the girls can play better and we will be seeking an improvement in the second leg," Oloo said.
"It's a good opportunity to test ourselves before we go for the qualifiers. We want to get a game or two under our belts so as to be fine-tuned for the qualifiers."
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