Australia are up against it in the first test against the new Zealand women's side tomorrow in the Eden Park Bledisloe curtainraiser.

This is their first test match in over two years, in fact since the last Women's Rugby World Cup, while the start of the 2017 WRWC campaign kicks off now for the Black Ferns, who themselves have been inactive for 15 months. The Wallaroos have never beaten the Black Ferns and have 12 test debutantes in their match-day squad of 23.

The Black Ferns have some serious firepower in their threequarters, with Portia Woodman slotting in at centre - minus the pink hair that enlivened her appearance in the Farah Palmer Cup final - with fullback Selica Winiata and wings Honey Hireme and Renee Wickliffe chiming in with their pace and guile. There is no room for Counties Manukau fullback Hazel Tubic, while Black Ferns Sevens rep Kelly Brazier will come off the bench.
Manawatu halfback Kristina Sue will debut off the bench, after several seasons where she has needed patience, rated as the No 3 or No 4 in her position.

In the pack, seasoned hooker and captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili will line up for her 40th international after a fine Farah Palmer Cup, where she was in prolific tryscoring and general play form.


Black Ferns sevens skipper Sarah Goss will wear the No 7 jersey, despite just one outing for the Bay of Plenty Volcanix since her Rio Olympics endeavours. Injury to the experienced Justine Lavea possibly expedited her selection.

"We talked about Sarah really early and it looked to us that No 7 could be her natural position. She played there for one game for Bay of Plenty and we thought she played well. There's a few things we need to fine-tune, but she's working really hard and it will be interesting to see how she goes," says head coach Glenn Moore.

In all, there are 15 back from the 2015 Super series in Canada, which the Black Ferns swept.

Original loose forward selection Sharnita Woodman was rested for tomorrow's international for precautionary reasons after she took a head knock in the Farah Palmer Cup final earlier this month. She will rejoin the squad on Sunday.

Woodman's move to centre is not, Moore says, an attempt to shoehorn in all the outside back talent. Injuries to Stacey Waaka and Theresa Fitzpatrick and the unavailability of Huriana Manuel and Kayla McAlister mean there is a shortage of quality midfielders.

"Her playing at centre is something we've talked about trying anyway and she gets that crack on Saturday," says Moore.

The Wallaroos laboured to a 21-19 win on Tuesday over an Auckland Storm side that was shorn of its Black Ferns, but will be anxious to show their wares after their sevens team have, rightly, soaked up all the plaudits over recent months.

Moore, who watched that match earlier this week, says any Australia-New Zealand international will mean there is an extra edge, regardless of who are favourites.
The Blacks Ferns themselves are up for this opportunity, a rare home test and as a televised curtainraiser to the All Blacks.

"New Zealand Rugby have put together a really good programme this year and leading into the World Cup. There are a number of test matches and competition for spots. At home at Eden Park and as the lead-in to the All Blacks is pretty special to them," Moore says.

He was also pleased with the improvement in standard in the Farah Palmer Cup, taken out by the Counties Manukau Heat, who ended Auckland Storm's dominance in fine style. That improvement was partly driven by good coaching, and a more centralised conditioning and skills programme.

"The better the standard, the more interest there will be," he says.

Just in case there was any doubt about what is expected of the Black Ferns after more than a year away from the rugby public's eye, it was made clear yesterday.

"We (New Zealand Rugby) have a focus on winning pinnacle events. These players have all been told there are high expectations come Saturday. It's a New Zealand rugby team.
"All bar one of the sevens players have come back to us via 15s and that was important to us," adds Moore.

The second test of the series for the Laurie O'Reilly Cup will be on Wednesday afternoon at Albany's QBE Stadium. New Zealand will tour England and Ireland - WRWC host nation - next month for three internationals.

New Zealand: Selica Winiata, Honey Hireme, Portia Woodman, Chelsea Alley, Renee Wickliffe, Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, Kendra Cocksedge, Aroha Savage, Sarah Goss, Rawinia Everitt, Charmaine Smith, Eloise Blackwell, Aleisha Nelson, Fiao'o Fa'amausili (c), Pip Love; Reserves: Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, Toka Natua/Aldora Itunu, Aotearoa Matau, Charlene Gubb, Charmain McMenamin, Kristina Sue, Kelly Brazier, Janna Vaughan

Australia: Sarah Riordan, Cobie-Jane Morgan, Nareta Marsters, Hanna Sio, Shontelle Stowers, Ashleigh Hewson (c), Iliseva Batibasaga, Liz Patu, Vesinia Schaaf-Tatufa, Millie Gray, Chloe Butler, Alisha Hewett, Hana Ngaha, Ivy Kaleta, Louise Burrows; Reserves: Alanna Patison, Emily Robinson, Danielle Meskell, Grace Hamilton, Kirby Sefo, Ariana Kaiwai, Katrina Barker, Cheyenne Campbell