Following Magali Harvey’s reappearance for Canada last Saturday, another high-profile name makes her return to the test arena this weekend as preparations for WXV gather pace.
After four years out on medical grounds, Charmaine Smith has been given the all-clear to resume her international career with the Black Ferns.
The 32-year-old loose forward lines up in the second row in Hamilton as the reigning world champions prepare to take on Australia in their first test on home soil since their famous victory over England in the Rugby World Cup 2021 final last November.
Australia were the Black Ferns’ opponents when Smith played the last of her 27 tests in Auckland in August 2019.
She was recalled by Black Ferns director of rugby Allan Bunting after an impressive season for the Chiefs Manawa in Super Rugby Aupiki.
Few handy additions to the team this week 🙌🏽— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) September 28, 2023
Returning to the side after 2 years Patricia Maliepo. Three potential debutants off the bench with Martha Mataele, Chryss Viliko and Layla Sae. Charmaine Smith dons the black jersey after 4 years.#LikeABlackFern #OReillyCup pic.twitter.com/ZaMyFyZqn0
Another returning player for Saturday’s O’Reilly Cup test is versatile playmaker Patricia Maliepo, but there is no place in the match-day 23 for star outside back Ruby Tui.
Tui has returned to 15s and was selected in the wider Black Ferns squad having taken a sabbatical to play Premier Rugby Sevens in the USA. But fans will have to wait a while longer before seeing her electrifying skills again.
New Zealand won the first O’Reilly Cup encounter in Brisbane at the end of June, 50-0. It formed part of their triumphant World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 campaign and an Australian record crowd of 7,055 for a standalone women’s rugby international watched the match.
Wallaroos head coach Jay Tregonning has made four changes to the team that took to the field for their last test against Canada in July.
Sera Naiqama has been named alongside captain Michaela Leonard in the second row, with Kaitlan Leaney shifting to blindside flanker.
Ashley Marsters will start at number eight while Emily Chancellor will resume her usual position at openside flanker.
The final change sees experienced campaigner Trilleen Pomare return to the starting side, named in the centres alongside Georgina Friedrichs.
Experienced Red Roses lead the way
The Black Ferns go into the match in second place in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini and can only knock England off top spot if they win and the Red Roses slip up in their rematch with Canada.
The 50-24 win in England’s favour in Exeter last week would suggest that is unlikely but Canada are never a side to be taken lightly as they showed in pushing the Red Roses all the way in the RWC 2021 semi-finals.
England have selected an experienced starting team boasting 665 caps. But among the replacements, Sophie Bridger is set for her first senior cap at the StoneX Stadium, the home of her new club, Saracens.
Interim head coach Louis Deacon has made nine changes to his starting line-up, while his opposite number, Kevin Rouet has also opted for some squad rotation, including a first cap on the wing for Krissy Scurfield.
The other sides playing at home this weekend – Italy, Scotland and Wales – will only enjoy marginal gains with victories over lower-ranked opponents.
Italy, for example, will only gain a maximum of 0.28 rating points by beating 11th-ranked Japan. However, this could still be enough to improve on eighth place if they win by more than 15 points and Wales do the same against USA, with the Azzurre climbing above the Women’s Eagles into seventh.
Wales and USA in rare meeting
Wales can make the biggest gains with a win by more than 15 points over USA set to earn them 0.82 rating points, although that’s not enough to catch Australia above them in fifth.
Hannah Jones will captain a Wales team that includes two new faces in the matchday squad for the first meeting with the Women’s Eagles in nine years. Wales have never beaten USA in four previous attempts.
Worcester Warriors’ Carys Cox is selected on the wing and will make her Wales debut in Colwyn Bay, while Wales U20 full-back Nel Metcalfe is named on the bench.
The Women’s Eagles, in Milton Haig’s first match as interim head coach, will climb above Wales into sixth place with any margin of victory. However, they can go no higher this weekend.
Scotland’s reward for beating Spain will be a maximum of 0.16 rating points so they will remain ninth with victory by more than 15 points – unless Japan beat Italy by the same margin in which case they would actually fall one place to 10th.
Scotland lead Spain 14-8 in the head-to-head record.
Lloyd is another on comeback trail
Head coach Bryan Easson has opted for consistency in his selection, with 13 of the starting line-up having played in Scotland’s last match of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations against Ireland in April, when they sealed an emphatic 36-10 victory in front of a record home crowd at Hive Stadium, the venue for Saturday’s game.
Sarah Bonar returns to the fold to start in the second row, having missed the entirety of this year’s Women's Six Nations due to injury, while GB Sevens star Rhona Lloyd will make her comeback having last played against New Zealand at RWC 2021.
Scotland will fall to 11th in the rankings if they lose on home soil or draw. The only thing that can prevent them slipping that far is if Japan lose by more than 15 points – as long as their margin of defeat is smaller.
Spain will climb above South Africa into 12th place if they can beat Scotland.
Japan will climb above Ireland and Scotland in victory – as long as the latter doesn’t win by more than 15 points – to reach a new high of eighth.
Meanwhile, Australia cannot improve on fifth place even with an historic first victory over New Zealand as they currently trail Canada above them by 5.38 points.