The momentum of women's rugby in the last year has, in the words of Black Ferns Head Coach Glenn Moore, "completely shifted."

His team is in Mount Maunganui this week preparing for their first test since last August's famous Women's Rugby World Cup (WRWC) final in Belfast, won 41-32 against England.

The Black Ferns play Australia in Sydney on August 18, with a return match at Eden Park seven days later.

Then there's a test against USA in Chicago on November 4 (NZT) and two internationals against France later that month.


While the games against Australia are curtain-raisers to the Bledisloe Cup games, and the encounter in Chicago is the first leg of a triple header involving men's matches featuring New Zealand Maori v USA and Ireland against Italy, the tests in France will be standalone fixtures.

That's a breakthrough.

Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore. Photo / Andrew Warner
Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore. Photo / Andrew Warner

They were originally set down as preliminary games for the France men's internationals against South Africa and Argentina, but the popularity of a France-England Women's Six Nations match in March has changed the landscape.

That day 17,440 people watched at Stade des Alpes in Grenoble, a world record for a women's rugby international, surpassing the 17,115 who watched the WRWC final in Belfast.

That's provided the French Rugby Federation with the confidence to promote women's tests as events in their own right.

The Black Ferns will face France at that same stadium in the French Alps on November 17 this year.

"We had an opportunity in the two years leading into the last World Cup about how women's rugby is perceived" says Moore.

"I think publicly there's been a real shift. There's a lot of energy coming behind the women's game, but that's the way the world's going at the moment. There's a focus on more women becoming CEOs and being on boards, and I think that's all for the positive."

World Rugby acknowledged the breakthrough too with the Black Ferns named as their Team of the Year and Ireland's Joy Neville as the Referee of the Year.

Moore has 16 players from victorious WRWRC squad in camp this week. Among the prominent names missing are sevens stars Portia Woodman, Sarah Goss and Kelly Brazier.

But two other members from last month's World Cup-winning sevens team – Whakatane-raised Stacey Waaka and 23-year-old Aucklander Theresa Fitzpatrick - have quickly come back to the fifteens squad.

Woodman, Goss and Brazier are on leave after their San Francisco triumph but Waaka and Fitzpatrick didn't play much at AT & T Park.

"We are very conscious about managing the players' wellbeing. We realise they can't play week in, week out all year round.

"Stacey and Fitzy, while they've been travelling and training, haven't had lots of game time. "You also need to be playing to get better, so that's why they're here.

Considering there's been no representative women's rugby since the WRWC, decisions about just who is in this 28 woman squad for the matches against Australia haven't been easy.

The Black Ferns are in training at Mount Maunganui. From left are Pip Love, Charmaine Smith and Kendra Cocksedge. Photo / Andrew Warner.
The Black Ferns are in training at Mount Maunganui. From left are Pip Love, Charmaine Smith and Kendra Cocksedge. Photo / Andrew Warner.

"We've been working with a group of 55 to 60 players since February and March. We've had several camps and at those camps there's a big focus on systems and game plans. Players get a broad understanding of how we're trying to play the game."

Two others from the WRWC win, Becky Woods and Sosoli Talawadua are unavailable for the matches against Australia after having babies in the last three months.

That, says Moore, is just a normal part of women's rugby.

"A big part of the culture here is about family and family values and we embrace that.

"It doesn't surprise me that they're both back playing in the Farah Palmer Cup. I've certainly had a conversation with one of them who wants to be available for the end-of-year tour. "Who knows, that might be possible."