Rugby: Woodman set for auspicious debut

Portia Woodman. Photo / Getty Images.
Portia Woodman. Photo / Getty Images.

For most rugby players, their first competitive 15-a-side game will come at the local club. For Portia Woodman, it will come at Eden Park against England in the 1000th test match in women's international rugby.

Woodman has been named on the wing for the Black Ferns as they seek revenge over arch-rivals England tomorrow night, despite having never played competitive 15-a-side rugby.

The top scorer at the recent Sevens World Cup in Moscow, Woodman certainly has the game running through her blood, with father Kawhena and uncle Fred having both represented the All Blacks.

And now Woodman will become the latest member of her family pull on the black jersey, capping a meteoric rise which began less than a year ago.

Woodman always preferred netball at school, with her rugby experience amounting to one 15-minute cameo for Mt Albert Grammar. The 21-year-old pursued her passion after leaving school, becoming a development player for the Northern Mystics and making the senior squad in 2012 before giving it away for sevens.

The possibility of Olympic gold would have certainly been an alluring prospect and the switch has so far seemed a good move. Woodman has competed in five sevens tournaments, claiming the top try- and point-scorer in the World Series before starring as New Zealand took home the World Cup.

Woodman's teammates in Moscow, Renee Wickliffe and Kelly Brazier, have also been named by coach Brian Evans in the starting XV for Saturday night, part of a lineup which boasts 210 caps and another 77 on the bench.

"It was very hard to go past those players who we know are hard grafters and seasoned campaigners,'' Evans said. ``I am also excited that the sevens girls have added a real intensity and pace to our backline.

"However, our experience up front will be crucial in securing ball. We know that the English will be physical and we need to make sure we are competitive.''

Being competitive may seem a modest target for the reigning world champions, but Evans and his players will need no reminding of what happened the last time these two sides met.

The touring Black Ferns were dealt a comprehensive 3-0 series whitewash by an impressive English side, and the Black Ferns' goal will be to reverse that result.

New Zealand do have some history on their side, with England winless on these shores since 2001. And the hosts will also be boosted for the match - which comes 30 years after the first women's test between France and the Netherlands - by the return of 2010 World Cup captain Victoria Grant.

Having been sidelined with injury for the last year, Grant will start at fullback and will provide valuable assistance for the inexperienced Woodman, while hooker Fiao'o Fa'amausili will retain the captaincy.

***

Black Ferns vs England, Eden Park, Saturday 5pm

Black Ferns: Victoria Grant, Portia Woodman, Claire Richardson, Amiria Rule, Renee Wickliffe, Kelly Brazier, Kendra Cocksedge, Casey Robertson, Justine Lavea, Aroha Savage, Vita Dryden, Rawinia Everitt, Melodie Bosman, Fiao'o Faamausili (c), Ruth McKay. Reserves: Karina Stowers, Kathleen Wilton, Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox, Jackie Patea, Charmaine McMenamin, Emma Jensen, Chelsea Alley, Selica Winiata

England: Emily Scarratt, Katherine Merchant, Amber Reed, Rachael Burford, Kay Wilson, Katy McLean, La Toya Mason, Rochelle Clark, Emma Croker, Sophie Hemming, Tamara Taylor, Joanne McGilchrist, Alexandra Matthews, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter (c). Reserves: Victoria Fleetwood, Laura Keates, Kate Newton, Emily Braund, Isabelle Noel-Smith, Natasha Hunt, Ceri Large, Michaela Staniford.

- APNZ

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