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Rikki Swannell

Rikki Swannell has been a sports broadcaster for 15 years, including six years as Sports Editor for Radio Sport/Newstalk ZB, covering various World Cups, Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Now a freelance commentator and reporter, she can be heard on rugby, netball, tennis, cricket and hockey for Sky Sport and on the Women's World Sevens Series.

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National selection looms large in Farah Palmer Cup - Swannell

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Rikki Swannell     10 Oct 2018     Getty Images

The Black Ferns touring squad to play tests against USA and France will be named next week, and while coach Glen Moore is sure to have the bulk of his team locked away there will be changes from that which played Australia, and the semifinals offer one last chance to see players perform.

France and USA have already named their squads. USA hasn’t played a game of 15s since last year’s World Cup and has included 21 new caps in their 34. There’s also a handful of national sevens players, including Jordan Gray, who is increasingly becoming a standout on the World Series.

By contrast, France has selected 25 players who were part of the Six Nations winning campaign earlier this year and four members of the sevens team which finished runners-up to New Zealand at the World Cup. France is a month into its domestic Top 16 competition so their players will go into the series with top level rugby under their belts. 

So too will New Zealand. For the first time, the Black Ferns selectors will have current form to base their squad on, players who are match hardened and some who will get the chance this week to show they can perform under pressure.

Going into the penultimate week of the FPC where five games will be played, there are three match-ups which standout (which isn’t to say the others aren’t just as important). They’re the sort of games where teams get to show how good they can be when the stakes are high and where players might get their name changed from pencil to pen in coach Moore’s notebook.
Waikato was a joy to watch last week; abrasive tight forwards, mobile and skilled loosies and a slick backline combined to take them into a home semifinal against Counties Manukau, who they beat by six points in round one. Counties, however, have class across the park and players who’ve been in many big games. 

Otago comfortably beat Hawke’s Bay in week two and has so much exciting young talent that if the bulk of this squad stays together there’s no doubt it’ll compete in the Premiership at some stage. But the Tui is a vastly improved side and narrowly missed hosting this Championship semifinal. 

Then there’s the relegation game (or “final ranking game”), one which seems terribly hard on Bay of Plenty and a chance at an almighty reprieve for Auckland. If ever there was a time to show how to handle pressure, prove your last meeting was no fluke or to validate your place in the selectors mind, this is the game. 

These are the ones they’ve all been working towards; the ones they’ve trained for in the cold after work, where big names should step-up and young players show what they can handle. These are the games to savour.

Can Waikato’s Ariana Bayler continue to deliver great service to the backline and cement a case to take a third halfback on the Black Ferns tour? Is Aotearoa Mata’u’s barn-storming, try scoring form enough to earn the Counties prop a recall? 

Tune in this weekend to see all of those questions and more answered.