It promises to be a thrilling final round of WXV 3 2023 as each of the three matches has something riding on it in Dubai.
The weekend kicks off on Friday, when Kazakhstan take on Fiji in a match that will have an impact on the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, before Kenya meet Colombia in a must-win for both teams as they seek to avoid relegation for their regions.
At the top of the standings, Ireland and Spain both know that victory in their winner-takes-all encounter on Saturday will secure the inaugural WXV 3 title.
Here is everything you need to know about round three.
Kazakhstan, Fiji vie for rankings points
Buoyed by their first WXV 3 win, Kazakhstan round off their campaign against Fiji in Friday’s opening match at The Sevens Stadium (kick-off 17:00 local time, GMT+4).
Fijiana begin the match one place higher than Kazakhstan in the standings, having picked up a losing bonus point against Spain last time out to add to their bonus-point defeat of Colombia in round one.
Should Inoke Male’s side end their time in Dubai with a second victory then they could end the tournament in second, depending on the margin of their win against Kazakhstan and the result between Ireland and Spain on Saturday.
Male has made eight personnel changes to his starting line-up as Fijiana target a victory that would also lift them above their opponents in the world rankings.
Conversely, Kazakhstan will climb above Hong Kong China to become the second-highest ranked team in Asia if they win on Friday.
And head coach Makhabbat Tugambekova has kept a fairly settled side for the match against Fijiana, making only one personnel change to her starting line-up.
Svetlana Malezhina has been drafted into the back row, with Yelena Yurova dropping to the bench and Tatyana Dadajanova returning to the front row.
Kazakhstan: Gulim Bakytpek; Darya Tkachyova, Yeva Bekker, Lyudmila Ivanova, Liliya Kibisheva; Kundyzay Baktybayeva, Daiana Kazibekova; Tatyana Dadajanova, Moldir Askhat, Natalya Kamendrovskaya, Anna Chebotar, Karina Sazontova (captain), Tatyana Kruchinkina, Svetlana Malezhina, Symbat Zhamankulova.
Replacements: Karina Tankisheva, Balzhan Akhbayeva, Yelena Yurova, Yuliya Oleinikova, Anastassiya Yevdokmiova, Irina Balabina, Daria Kuznetsova, Milana Kotova.
Fiji: Luisa Tisolo; Atelaite Ralivanawa, Merewairita Neivosa, Merewai Cumu, Adita Milinia; Salanieta Kinita, Evivi Senikarivi; Salanieta Nabuli, Bitila Tawake, Ana Korovata, Doreen Narokete, Mereoni Nakesa, Merevesi Ofakimalino, Teresia Tinanivalu, Sereima Leweniqila (captain).
Replacements: Unaisi Navue Lalabalavu, Loraini Senivutu, Karalani Naisewa, Nunia Delaimoala, Adi Fulori Rotagavira, Wainikiti Vosadrau, Rusila Nagasau, Mary Lala Jane Kanace.
Safety the prize for Kenya or Colombia
Kenya meet Colombia in Friday’s second match in Dubai (kick-off 19:30 local time), with Africa and South America in danger of losing a place in WXV 3.
Whoever loses their final match at The Sevens Stadium will face a relegation play-off at a later date.
Should the match end in a draw then the Lionesses will secure Africa’s place in the third level by virtue of the losing bonus-point they earned in defeat to Kazakhstan last week and their superior points difference.
Kenya have made five personnel changes to their starting line-up ahead of their encounter with Kazakhstan on Friday.
Naomi Muhanji comes in at hooker, while Phoebe Otieno is named at number eight. Judith Okumu is selected at scrum-half, while Stella Wafula is handed the number 12 jersey and Sharon Auma lines up on the right wing.
Assistant coach Paul Murunga said: “It has been a good week in terms of training. We identified several areas we needed to fix after the Kazakhstan game.
“We’ve polished our plays, especially on attack. The girls must also be more confident when playing.”
Colombia won the teams’ only previous meeting, edging their hosts 16-15 in a Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifier in Nairobi two years ago.
Friday’s rematch could have a big impact on the nations’ qualification hopes for RWC 2025 and Las Tucanes head coach Lissete Martinez has made six personnel changes to her starting XV for the match.
Tatiana Delgado, Carolina Naranjo, Tatiana Hernandez, Laura Villota Noguera, Juliana Soto and Isabel Ramirez come into the team that was beaten by Ireland last Saturday.
Maria I. Arzuaga, who scored all of Las Tucanes’ points in Nairobi in 2021, will start Friday’s match at The Sevens Stadium on the bench.
Kenya: Diana Omosso; Sharon Auma, Prisca Nyerere, Stella Wafula, Terry Isabwa; Ann Ochieng, Judith Okumu; Rose Otieno, Naomi Muhanji, Natasha Emali, Maureen Chebet, Naomi Kemei, Enid Ouma (captain), Diana Nyairo, Phoebe Otieno.
Replacements: Knight Otwoma, Valentine Otieno, Evelyne Luganu, Faith Livoi, Hesslah Khisa, Edith Nariaka, Esther Juma, Mitchelle Owuor.
Colombia: Leidy Garcia; Melisa Rios Mena, Maribel Mestra, Isabel Ramirez, Juliana Soto; Camila Lopera (captain), Laura Villota Noguera; Tatiana Delgado, Silvia Olave, Gisel Gomez, Laura Gutierrez, Carolina Naranjo, Valentina Yepes Pena, Tatiana Hernandez, Valentina Alvarez.
Replacements: Natalia Caisedo, Natalia Barajas, Camila Cardona, Valeria Munoz, Angela Alzate, Stefania Sarmiento, Maria I. Arzuaga, Angie Manyoma.
Ireland face Spain in title decider
Ireland and Spain meet in a winner-takes-all encounter at The Sevens Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 17:00 local time) to decide who claims the inaugural WXV 3 title.
Scott Bemand’s Ireland head into the match a point clear of Las Leonas, having beaten both Kazakhstan and Colombia with a bonus point.
The Irish also have a healthy lead in terms of points difference (+170 compared to +39), which means they only need to avoid defeat in their final match in Dubai to be crowned champions.
Spain, though, know that a seventh victory in the fixture – and second in a row – would enable them to leapfrog their opponents and claim the title.
However, a lot has changed for Ireland since they were beaten 8-7 by Spain during the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier in Parma two years ago, and they have made an encouraging start to life under Bemand.
The former England assistant coach has made only two changes to his starting XV for the finale, as Dorothy Wall lines up in the second row and Molly Scuffil-McCabe returns at scrum-half.
Bemand said: “Competition for places in this final round squad has been high, this is exactly where we want to be. It has taken 31 players to get to this point and both this squad and individuals have grown over these three weeks.”
Spain have also made two changes to their starting XV, both in the backs, as Maider Aresti Felix starts at scrum-half and Zahia Perez comes into the centres.
Outside back Tecla Masoko Bueriberi will make her debut if called upon from the bench.
Ireland: Méabh Deely; Natasja Behan, Eve Higgins, Aoife Dalton, Béibhinn Parsons; Dannah O’Brien, Molly Scuffil-McCabe; Linda Djougang, Neve Jones, Christy Haney, Dorothy Wall, Sam Monaghan (co-captain), Grace Moore, Edel McMahon (co-captain), Brittany Hogan.
Replacements: Clara Nielson, Niamh O’Dowd, Sadhbh McGrath, Eimear Corri, Aoife Wafer, Aoibheann Riley, Nicole Fowley, Leah Tarpey.
Spain: Amalia Argudo; Claudia Pérez Pérez, Claudia Peña Hidalgo, Zahia Perez, Clara Piquero; Ines Bueso-Inchausti, Maider Aresti Felix; Ines Antolinez Fernandez, Cristina Blanco Herrera (captain), Laura Delgado, Anna Puig, Carmen Castellucci, Vico Gorrochategui Juste, Alba Capell, Maria Calvo.
Replacements: Maria Roman Mallen, Maria Del Castillo, Sidorella Bracic Rodriguez, Beatriz Rivera, Nadina Cisa, Julia Castro, Alba Vinuesa, Tecla Masoko Bueriberi.