The Black Ferns are steeling themselves for an intense, but hopefully instructive, foray to the north.

They flew out last night bound for London, from where they will play England on the weekend and then cross to Ireland, host nation of the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup, for tests against Canada and the hosts.

New Zealand holds the No 1 world ranking, with Canada at No 2, England No 3 and Ireland No 5, so the Black Ferns' three tests in eight days will be a solid guide of how well on track they are for the World Cup in nine months' time.

Hooker and captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili and wing Portia Woodman were already in London attending the just completed World Rugby awards night.


The balance of the 27-strong squad had three intense training sessions in two days in Auckland as they regrouped following the 2-0 series win over the Australian Wallaroos, which finished a fortnight ago.

From that group, prop Canterbury prop Pip Love and Counties Manukau No 10 Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali are both injured, while Black Ferns Sevens skipper Sarah Goss will not travel as she reintegrates into the sevens programme. In theory, she could have travelled straight to Dubai for the first leg of the women's World Series, as the final Black Ferns tour match is on November 27, but that was never the plan.

"It was always the plan to have her just for the Australian games, but we were really pleased with her in that Australian series," says Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore.

Options to wear the No 7 jersey in the north are Sharnita Woodman of Counties Manukau, Charmaine McMenamin of Auckland and Angie Sisifa of Otago.

Auckland No 10 Kiri Demant and Waikato prop Sosoli Talawadua have won recalls. The latter is uncapped but, like Sharnita Woodman last month, has been in the squad previously.

The squad have all been training away individually or in regional groups in the last fortnight, so the aim is to hasten the attacking cohesion after a mediocre 29-3 win over Australia in the second test in Albany, which followed the altogether more impressive 67-3 shellacking in the first test at Eden Park.

"We were disappointed with some aspects of the second test, but the positive was that we did hold them tryless in two games," says Moore. "We've worked hard on our D. We're using a new system. But we also scrummed really well on our ball and theirs and parts of the lineout were solid.

"Attack was a bit of a worry, but we crunched the numbers. There was quite a bit of fatigue there, so I'm fairly satisfied with where we are at."

Needless to say, the three tests ahead will be significant leaps in standard from the series against the sixth-ranked Australians, though England, Saturday's opponent, laboured to a 10-5 midweek win over France and 12-10 this morning over Ireland.

"We've just seen the footage of the England-France match. It was a little bit of a surprise. There seemed to be a lot of dropped ball. England scored two tries off lineout drives, so that was all there was in it, but we are aware of what they can bring."

While this tour is essentially about building for the World Cup, it is also about furthering international experience for some of the younger players.

They don't come younger than 19-year-old prop Aotearoa Mata'u, just a year out of Papakura High School and fresh off a fine Farah Palmer Cup campaign with the champion Counties Manukau Heat.

The quietly-spoken tighthead came on for around 20 minutes in both tests against the Wallaroos and acquitted herself well. She has size and scrumming technique, and is soaking up information like a sponge.

"I love it. All the girls are welcoming. I felt part of the team instantly," says the University of Auckland education student who also works at McDonald's. All her exams are over so she can now fully focus on the Black Ferns, though she admits to feeling nervous ahead of the next match against "the world champions."

Moore likes what he sees in his rookie No 3: "She's big and strong and has some athletic ability. I'm not sure if she knows her own strength yet, but she's come a long way, had a lot of sacrifices to get to this level, and she's showing good signs."

Much like these new-look Black Ferns as they eye up a fifth World Cup title.