WXV 1’s final round has something riding on every match, as the tournament will be decided on the results of all three matches at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Australia will look to build on their big win last weekend when they face Wales in the opening match on Friday (kick-off 19:00 local time, GMT+13).
Then, a blockbuster double header on Saturday starts with France playing Canada (kick-off 16:00 local time). All eyes will then be on a rematch of last year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup final when New Zealand take on England (kick-off 19:00 local time).
Australia keen to keep attacking against Wales
Fresh off their breakout win over France last weekend, the Wallaroos are full of confidence as they prepare to face Wales.
Coach Jay Tregonning has made one change to his starting side, with an additional four changes to the bench. Maya Stewart and Bridie Gorman return from injury and suspension respectively, while Ashley Marsters and Jay Huriwai are included.
“Making changes after a win is always a difficult one, but we’ve got people coming back in certain positions, so we’ve made those calls,” said Tregonning, who added that celebrations were low key after the France win.
“Our mind shifted quickly to Wales. We changed up our training week, so we’re hoping to continue on that momentum. The systems worked because of the effort that all the players put in.”
Captain Michaela Leonard was wary of the threat Wales posed.
“They’ll be picking themselves back up after last week’s game. We’re expecting it to be a tough battle, especially through the middle of the field,” she said.
The Welsh ran into a Black Ferns backlash last weekend but fought hard in defeat. Coach Ioan Cunningham has brought back Georgia Evans into the second row alongside Abbie Fleming, with Alex Callender, Kate Williams and Bethan Lewis in a new-look loose forward trio.
“We know where we must improve and what our strengths are and to play this level of opposition will only be good for us in the long term. It has been a demanding tour, but the squad are now fully focused on Australia,” Cunningham said.
Australia: Faitala Moleka; Maya Stewart, Georgina Friedrichs, Arabella McKenzie, Ivania Wong; Carys Dallinger, Layne Morgan; Brianna Hoy, Tania Naden, Eva Karpani, Sera Naiqama, Michaela Leonard (captain), Siokapesi Palu, Emily Chancellor, Kaitlan Leaney.
Replacements: Adiana Talakai, Bree-Anna Cheatham, Bride O’Gorman, Atasi Lafai, Ashley Marsters, Jay Huriwai, Cecilia Smith, Lori Cramer.
Wales: Jasmine Joyce; Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones (captain), Hannah Bluck, Carys Cox; Lleucu George, Keira Bevan; Gwenllian Pyrs, Carys Phillips, Sisilia Tuipolotu, Abbie Fleming, Georgia Evans, Kate Williams, Alex Callender, Bethan Lewis.
Replacements: Kelsey Jones, Abbey Constable, Cerys Hale, Alisha Butchers, Sioned Harries, Meg Davies, Robyn Wilkins, Kerin Lake.
Canada and France set to light it up
Both Canada and France have plenty to play for in their last WXV 1 fixture, with the former in with a slim chance of winning the tournament if other results go their way. Both are also looking to bounce back from tough losses last weekend, but Canada coach Kevin Rouet said that preparation this week has been good.
“Everyone in the team has worked very hard at training, it has been a good week for us,” said Rouet.
“France is a top three team in the world and right now we are fourth. They are another team we are trying to reach in the rankings and trying to beat.
"We were disappointed after our loss to England last week, so the team is glad to have the opportunity to bounce back and play against another one of the top teams in the world.”
Rouet has named Fancy Bermudez at outside centre, her first selection of WXV 1. Fly-half Julia Schell also comes into the starting team, along with winger Krissy Scurfield.
Laetitia Royer and Julia Omokhuale have been added to the bench, with the latter set to earn her first test cap if called upon.
Meanwhile, France co-coaches Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz have overhauled their side that lost to Australia. A new front row of Ambre Mwayembe, Laure Touyé and Assia Khalfaoui will be supported by Audrey Forlani, who is in for the injured Madoussou Fall.
The vastly experienced Pauline Bourdon Sansus takes over at scrum-half to pair with fly-half Lina Queyroi. Gabrielle Vernier comes back in at inside centre, with Marine Ménager moving to the wing.
France: Morgane Bourgeois; Marine Ménager, Nassira Konde, Gabrielle Vernier, Emilie Boulard; Lina Queyroi, Pauline Bourdon Sansus; Ambre Mwayembe, Laure Touyé, Assia Khalfaoui, Manaé Feleu (captain), Audrey Forlani, Emeline Gros, Gaëlle Hermet, Charlotte Escudero.
Replacements: Elisa Riffonneau, Coco Lindelauf, Yllana Brosseau, Kiara Zago, Léa Champon, Alexandra Chambon, Carla Arbez, Caroline Boujard.
Canada: Sarah-Maude Lachance; Paige Farries, Fancy Bermudez, Alexandra Tessier, Krissy Scurfield; Julia Schell, Justine Pelletier; McKinley Hunt, Emily Tuttosi, DaLeaka Menin, Tyson Beukeboom, Courtney Holtkamp, Gabrielle Senft, Sara Svoboda, Sophie de Goede (captain).
Replacements: Gillian Boag, Brittany Kassil, Alexandria Ellis, Laetitia Royer, Julia Omokhuale, Olivia Apps, Shoshanah Seumanutafa, Florence Symonds.
A rematch for the ages as New Zealand meet England
Both sides have been downplaying the feelings around this game, but it’s clear that the Black Ferns and Red Roses have had this one marked on their calendars for a while.
And New Zealand assistant coach Tony Christie says the hosts are “really excited” to be playing England again. “We know they'll be coming out for redemption,” he said.
“We're going to see the looks on their faces after the World Cup final last year to know how much it hurt for them. So, I'm sure they've been planning for this one for a long time.”
The only change to the New Zealand side is Alana Bremner starting at blindside flanker and Layla Sae shifting to the bench.
Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, named to start at scrum-half, believes the Black Ferns had been building nicely throughout the WXV 1 tournament.
“It's all been about how we progress and of the things that we're working on as a team going off last year and the exciting final that it was, I'm sure this weekend will be no different,” she said.
“It'll be a battle upfront and we're going to pick our sword to use on the day and go for it.”
Interim England coach Louis Deacon said last year’s epic final was not something that was playing on his side’s minds this week, insisting that this side was a new group playing a new way.
“We wanted it to be different, playing a new style of rugby,” Deacon said. “That’s why it’s exciting to test ourselves against the best team, that’s what’s great about this competition. We don’t get to play sides like New Zealand and Australia often.”
Deacon has made two changes to his starting line-up, as centre Tatyana Heard and second row Rosie Galligan come back in, while Amy Cokayne, Sarah Beckett and Megan Jones are selected on the bench.
Being a well-rounded team is “definitely something England are working towards” according to Helena Rowland, who missed last year’s final with injury but starts at outside centre on Saturday.
“As great as it is scoring tries from mauls, it was really positive last weekend as backs to score those tries,” she said.
New Zealand: Renee Holmes; Ruby Tui, Amy du Plessis, Sylvia Brunt, Mererangi Paul; Ruahei Demant (co-captain), Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu; Kate Henwood, Georgia Ponsonby, Amy Rule, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Chelsea Bremner, Alana Bremner, Kennedy Simon (co-captain), Liana Mikaele-Tu’u.
Replacements: Luka Connor, Krystal Murray, Sophie Fisher, Layla Sae, Lucy Jenkins, Iritana Hohaia, Patricia Maliepo, Katelyn Vahaakolo.
England: Ellie Kildunne; Abby Dow, Helena Rowland, Tatyana Heard, Claudia MacDonald; Holly Aitchison, Natasha Hunt; Mackenzie Carson, Lark Atkin-Davies, Sarah Bern, Zoe Aldcroft, Rosie Galligan, Morwenna Talling, Marlie Packer (captain), Alex Matthews.
Replacements: Amy Cokayne, Hannah Botterman, Maud Muir, Sarah Beckett, Maisy Allen, Ella Wyrwas, Megan Jones, Jess Breach.