The world’s best in women’s rugby have descended on Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, to open WXV 1.
The six-team tournament opens with England and Australia meeting at Sky Stadium on Friday, before an intriguing match-up between Wales and Canada is followed by New Zealand versus France on Saturday.
It’s the first of three blockbuster weekends of rugby across the length of New Zealand, with the action moving to Dunedin and then Auckland. Here is everything you need to know ahead of the opening round.
Australia hoping to rise to English challenge
Almost exactly a year since they last met, in a Rugby World Cup 2021 quarter-final, the Wallaroos and Red Roses have the honour of opening proceedings at Sky Stadium on Friday. Australia coach Jay Tregonning has overhauled his side since their last fixture, against New Zealand last month, with three debutants and positional switches.
The most notable of these is Siokapesi Palu moving from the midfield to blindside flanker, with Tregonning saying the Brumbies utility will be a lineout option and he is looking for her to carry the ball strongly.
Carys Dallinger starts at fly-half, returning to the city she represented in Super Rugby Aupiki. Dallinger played two seasons for the Hurricanes Poua before shifting to Australia, with her team-mates grateful for the knowledge she’s brought with her.
“She’s added a lot, she’s very experienced and skilful… we’ve had a lot of time together and discussed a lot,” said scrum-half Sarah Dougherty, who is in line to make her debut as a replacement.
Meanwhile, interim England coach Louis Deacon had said that his side wants “to deliver a performance that shows progression and growth”.
“[We] want to get off to the best possible start in the competition,” he added. “Facing an Australian side we don’t come up against too often only adds to the excitement.”
Deacon has reshuffled his midfield, Tatyana Heard and Megan Jones appear alongside one another for the first time. The uncapped Daisy Hibbert-Jones provides cover at loose forward, while at the other end of the experience scale, the side is led by Marlie Packer in her 97th test appearance.
England: Helena Rowland, Abby Dow, Megan Jones, Tatyana Heard, Jess Breach, Holly Aitchison, Ella Wyrwas; Hannah Botterman, Connie Powell, Maud Muir, Rosie Galligan, Zoe Aldcroft, Maisy Allen, Marlie Packer (captain), Alex Matthews.
Replacements: Lark Atkin-Davies, Mackenzie Carson, Kelsey Clifford, Sarah Beckett, Daisy Hibbert-Jones, Natasha Hunt, Sophie Bridger, Emma Sing.
Australia: Faitala Moleka, Maya Stewart, Georgina Friedrichs, Arabella McKenzie, Ivania Wong, Carys Dallinger, Layne Morgan; Brianna Hoy, Tania Naden, Eva Karpani, Michaela Leonard (captain), Annabelle Codey, Siokapesi Palu, Emily Chancellor, Kaitlan Leaney.
Replacements: Adiana Talakai, Bree-Anna Cheatham, Emily Robinson, Atasi Lafai, Ashley Marsters, Sarah Dougherty, Cecilia Smith, Desiree Miller
Canada and Wales meet in intriguing battle
There’s a milestone on the cards for both Canada and Wales as they head into their first WXV 1 match, with players on each side set to reach 50 test caps.
DaLeaka Menin will potentially become just the seventh Canadian woman to achieve the feat, after being named among the replacements by coach Kevin Rouet.
Canada come in off two encouraging results against England, with the last match in London seeing them fight to the end in a 29-12 loss.
“Having competed in England just over two weeks ago, we have been able to have good continuity and momentum,” Rouet said.
“We have continued working on refining our offence and defence. This roster is eager to get back on the pitch this week and implement the elements we've continued to work on as a group since arriving in Wellington.”
Rouet has named one potential debutant in his squad, with Ashlynn Smith set to provide loose forward cover from the bench. Sophie de Goede will lead the side after assuming the captaincy at last year’s Rugby World Cup, looking to add to the three wins this season they’ve achieved.
Meanwhile, Welsh stalwart and captain Hannah Jones will play her 50th match for her country. Her remarkable career began when she was called up into the Welsh squad aged only 15 in 2015, making her debut after her 16th birthday.
Jones leads the side from outside centre, as the Welsh look to build on a breakthrough win against the USA last month.
“She is a special leader on the field – and off it too,” Welsh coach Ioan Cunningham said of Jones. “That's one of the main reasons why everyone has so much respect for her."
Canada: Madison Grant, Florence Symonds, Shoshannah Seumanutafa, Alex Tessier, Sarah-Maude Lachance, Claire Gallagher, Olivia Apps; McKinley Hunt, Emily Tuttosi, Alexandria Ellis, Laetitia Royer, Gabrielle Senft, Sara Svoboda, Sophie de Goede (captain).
Replacements: Gillian Boag, Brittany Kassil, DaLeaka Menin, Ashlynn Smith, Courtney Holtkamp, Justine Pelletier, Julia Schell, Krissy Scurfield.
Wales: Jasmine Joyce, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones (captain), Kerin Lake, Carys Cox, Robyn Wilkins, Keira Bevan; Gwenllian Pyrs, Carys Phillips, Sisilia Tuipulotu, Abbie Fleming, Georgia Evans, Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender, Bethan Lewis.
Replacements: Kelsey Jones, Abbey Constable, Donna Rose, Kate Williams, Sioned Harries, Megan Davies, Lleucu George, Carys Williams-Morris.
New Zealand and France face off in RWC 2021 thriller rematch
Hosts New Zealand are relishing the challenge that a strong French team will bring in the final match of WXV 1’s opening weekend on Saturday (kick-off 19:00 local time).
Black Ferns co-captain Ruahei Demant said that when she reminisces about the last time the sides met, she doesn’t think about the result, more the lessons learned from the epic encounter that finished 25-24 and saw her side through to a Rugby World Cup final.
“Those moments on that day better prepared us for the final, but also games that followed. We’ve built from training to training, I’m really excited about the prospect this Saturday of being able to play one of the best teams in the world.”
New Zealand director of rugby Allan Bunting has named an experienced side, including the return of Ruby Tui on the wing, and said the Black Ferns have done the homework on the threats this French team poses – especially the physicality they will bring.
“It’s in France’s DNA, they love the breakdown area,” he said. “They’re really quick around that space, so we need to be better there. They’re elusive and like to play running rugby too, but we want to get our game right.”
France co-coach David Ortiz recognised the potential a test match of this quality can have on his youthful side. The experience of new captain Manaé Feleu and Gaëlle Hermet will be heavily relied upon as they play their first test match in New Zealand’s capital city.
“Playing the Black Ferns at home in a competition like this is really an accelerator in our experience, their training,” Ortiz said. “This is why this team selection combines youth and experience, in a desire to help us grow.”
Demant agreed that the importance of the WXV tournaments is paramount for the development of the women’s game.
“Having something like this every year means we’re guaranteed quality game time against quality opposition, against the best teams in the world, every year,” she said.
“It’s not just going to push the standard of women’s rugby internationally; it’s going to allow us as a team to build more depth and have much more experience in the years to come.”
New Zealand: Renee Holmes, Ruby Tui, Amy du Plessis, Sylvia Brunt, Katelyn Vahaakolo, Ruahei Demant (co-captain), Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu; Krystal Murray, Georgia Ponsonby, Amy Rule, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Charmaine Smith, Alana Bremner, Kennedy Simon (co-captain), Liana Mikaele-Tu'u.
Replacements: Luka Connor, Chryss Viliko, Tanya Kalounivale, Chelsea Bremner, Lucy Jenkins, Ariana Bayler, Patricia Maliepo, Martha Mataele.
France: Morgane Bourgeois, Cyrielle Banet, Marine Ménager, Gabrielle Vernier, Caroline Boujard, Lina Queyroi, Alexandra Chambon; Ambre Mwayembe, Elisa Riffonneau, Clara Joyeux, Manaé Feleu (captain), Madoussou Fall, Axelle Berthoumieu, Gaëlle Hermet, Charlotte Escudero.
Replacements: Laure Touyé, Coco Lindelauf, Assia Khalfaoui, Audrey Forlani, Alexandra Chambon, Émeline Gros, Pauline Bourdon Sansus, Nassira Konde.