When Black Ferns second-row Charmaine Smith crossed the whitewash to confirm a 37-8 victory against Australia at Eden Park on 17 August, 2019, no one could have predicted it would be the team’s final act for more than 26 months.

New Zealand’s women had completed their busiest ever schedule in a non-Rugby World Cup year, winning five of six tests to maintain their place at the top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.

The defeat of the Wallaroos, meanwhile, came in the Black Ferns’ 99th test since their first official international match, against Canada at the inaugural women’s Rugby World Cup in Wales in 1991.

It seemed only a matter of time until the team brought up its century. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic not only ensured that Rugby World Cup 2021 was postponed but has also kept the Black Ferns from the international stage – until now.

The five-time Rugby World Cup winners will make their long-awaited return, and play their 100th official test, when they take on England at Sandy Park in Exeter on Sunday.

“It's pretty cool, even just saying that gives me goosebumps,” Kendra Cocksedge said this week when asked how it felt to be back touring with the Black Ferns.

“It’s crazy for someone who plays every year and then two-and-a-half years later and you get to pull on that black jersey again.

“It's going to be really interesting. I can imagine that the first 20 minutes on Sunday is going to have the lungs going, it'll probably no doubt be very quick footy.

“But, we'll hopefully get the job done and it's very exciting for the whole group.”

“A chance to celebrate”

Cocksedge has played more than half of the team’s 99 tests to date, having made her debut as a replacement aged just 19 against Australia in 2007.

Having won two Rugby World Cup titles and with more than 50 tests for New Zealand behind her, there is not much Cocksedge has not achieved on the pitch.

But even she struggled to contain her excitement ahead of the first match of the team’s European tour against England, the side currently ranked number one in the Women’s Rankings.

“There's no other way apart from getting up for it,” she said.

“It's been two and a half years since the team's played a test match and the Black Ferns, we'll be playing in our 100th Test as well. So, there's a lot to get up for this weekend.

“And, we love the battle against England, we know how tough it is and the girls are absolutely fizzing.

“We’ve been training for the sake of training, we managed to get some Farah Palmer Cup in at home, but we're almost sick of playing each other.

“So, we're looking forward to getting out on the grass and hopefully doing a good job against England.”

Following Sunday’s match against England, the Black Ferns will play the Red Roses again in Northampton before travelling to France to face Les Bleues on consecutive weekends.

They will do so having brought up a century of official matches for the team, and prop Pip Love believes this weekend’s assignment is an opportunity to honour the players who went before them.

“I've seen a huge, huge growth in the game just with the amount of support and resources we get, and the crowd support and the fan base,” said Love, who made her test debut in 2014.

“It's really exciting, the 100th test, it's a chance to celebrate all of those players that went before us and it's a huge legacy, 100 games.

“You know, you only play a few games a year, so we're celebrating a lot of girls from way back in the day.

“So, it's cool to be able to go out there and hopefully we can do them proud.”

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