Tyla Nathan-Wong will captain the Black Ferns Sevens as they seek to negotiate a tricky last two events in their quest to regain the World Series crown from close rivals Australia.
New Zealand have lost captain Sarah Goss, Portia Woodman and Kelly Brazier to the Black Ferns 15s programme, which will soon kick off in the lead-up to August Women's Rugby World Cup, so they will do well to maintain their 10-point lead against an Australian side not too disrupted by their 15s programme.
The countdown starts in Langford, Canada, next weekend. Theresa Fitzpatrick is included, though she will be released back to the Black Ferns straight after the tournament and will not play the final event in France late next month. There is still a decent mix of pace and experience, though, with the likes of Niall Williams, Michaela Blyde, Ruby Tui and Kat Whata-Simpkins prominent, so all is not lost.
"Many of our experienced players are moving over to the Black Ferns for the next couple of months so it has given us the opportunity to look a bit deeper into our talent pool. It's created opportunities for players with less game time over the World Series to step up for the last two tournaments," says head coach Allan Bunting.
"While many of these players have been in our wider team environment this year, injury or other factors have ruled them out of selection. So our training-camp this week has been about whanau. We've welcomed the new players and given the team clarity, confidence and courage to express themselves and front every challenge.
"This is also an opportunity for us to extend our leadership group, with Tyla Nathan-Wong stepping up to captain with support from Ruby Tui and Niall Williams, who have been doing an outstanding job in our leadership group.
"We're stoked for our players who've been selected for the Black Ferns for the upcoming series and are in contention for the Rugby World Cup. It's a great opportunity for them to experience a pinnacle event, represent our country and compete for a World Cup.
"They will play some physical close-quarter rugby, learn new skills from quality coaches and will come back to sevens better from it. They will have an appreciation of the abundance of space that we have in sevens, but understand the skill set and energy systems needed to maximise the space.
"We're well aware of the challenges we have ahead of us in our pool in Langford against England and USA. We will be taking it one game at a time. It is great to see the Netherlands back in the series for this leg. They always put up a physical, well-rounded, challenge and have really pushed us in the past, so we are focused on them for now."
NZ pool games, May 27:
5.52am NZT v Netherlands
8.36am NZT v USA
11.20am NZT v England
Finals day, May 28
Black Ferns Sevens squad: Tyla Nathan-Wong (c), Michaela Blyde, Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Alena Saili, Ruby Tui, Kat Whata-Simpkins, Niall Williams, Shakira Baker, Jess Drummond, Crystal Mayes
Travelling reserves: Lyric Faleafaga, Tayla Reti