Match Details: Black Ferns v Japan, Saturday 24 September, 4.30pm NZT, Eden Park
Watch: Live on Sky Sport
Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr
Assistant Referees: Lauren Jenner (AR1), Tarsha Ganley (AR2)
TMO: Lee Jeffrey
BLACK FERNS TO SETTLE
In five Tests since April the Black Ferns have used 39 players, including 15 debutants. With the World Cup starting a fortnight later this test should provide further clues as to what the best starting XV is.
Captain Ruahei Demant has been picked in every test of the Wayne Smith era while Pip Love, Jonah Ngan-Woo, Kendra Cocksedge and Ruby Tui have all started four test matches suggesting these players represent the spine of the unit.
Chelsea Bremner and Amy du Plessis have three starts and front rowers Luka Connor and Amy Rule two each. Fullback Renee Holmes has emerged as a goal-kicking option.
Strong performances from the aforementioned individuals will make them hard to displace during the World Cup.
SEVENS STARS RETURN
Olympic Sevens gold-medalists Sarah Hirini, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Portia Woodman and Stacey Fluhler all helped the Black Ferns win the 2017 World Cup and return for Saturday’s Test. Hirini, hasn’t played for the Black Ferns since the 2017 final. Her last first-class fifteens match was on March 20 when she led Hurricanes Poua to an 18-6 victory over Matatu in Super Rugby Aupiki.
Woodman and Fluhler toured England and France with the Black Ferns last year with Woodman scoring two tries in the second test of the English series. She has 24 tries in 18 appearances. Fitzpatrick, who missed the Sevens World Cup in September, impressed in the 52-5 win over Australia on August 20 in Christchurch.
As full-time professionals for the best part of a decade the quartet will add experience and vibrance to the roster but how quickly will they adjust to the differences of fifteens play and the new high-tempo game plan that’s been evolving since April.
FORTRESS EDEN PARK
The Black Ferns have never lost at Eden Park. Their first Test at Eden Park was against the World XV in 2003 and they won 37-0. They have played a further six Tests since with record victories over Samoa (90-12), Australia (67-3) and two impressive demolitions of England. The Black Ferns have outscored opponents 338-58 in all matches at the Garden of Eden.
The Black Ferns have won 30 of their 32 home internationals. Their only losses on home soil are to England in 2001 at North Harbour Stadium (17-22) and at the Rotorua International Stadium (21-29) in 2017.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE JAPAN
Japan are ranked 13th in the world but have won four out of six Test matches this year including a 12-10 victory in Australia in May. In August they played Ireland in a two-Test series and were thumped in the first game (22-57) but came back to win the second test (29-10).
Japan is well-coached by former Canadian international Lesley McKenzie who had an extensive period coaching in New Zealand. Their captain is mobile prop Saki Minami who has played 25 tests. Blindside flanker Seina Saito is the most experienced player in the roster with 31 Tests. Halves pairing Megumi Abe and Ayasa Otsuka are exciting with Otsuka particularly dangerous with ball in hand. The first-five said on Thursday:
“The ball comes out from Megumi very quick which means I can focus on making quick judgments throughout the game which brings more momentum to the team. The quicker Megumi plays, the faster the whole team plays which means we get momentum.”
1. Pip Love, 2. Luka Connor, 3. Amy Rule, 4. Joanah Ngan Woo, 5. Chelsea Bremner, 6. Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, 7. Sarah Hirini, 8. Charmaine McMenamin, 9. Kendra Cocksedge, 10. Ruahei Demant (Captain), 11. Ruby Tui, 12. Theresa Fitzpatrick, 13. Amy du Plessis, 14. Portia Woodman, 15. Renee Holmes
Reserves: 16. Georgia Ponsonby 17. Awhina Tangen-Wainohu 18. Santo Taumata 19. Maiakawanakaulani Roos 20. Kendra Reynolds 21. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu 22. Stacey Fluhler 23. Hazel Tubic
1. Saki Minami, 2. Nijiho Nagata, 3. Makoto Lavemai, 4. Yuna Sato, 5. Maki Takano, 6. Seina Saito, 7. Kyoko Hosokawa, 8. Ayano Nagai, 9. Megumi Abe, 10. Ayasa Otsuka, 11. Rinka Matsuda, 12. Shione Nakayama, 13. Mana Furuta, 14. Hinano Nagura, 15.Ai Hirayama
Reserves: 16. Sachiko Kato 17. Kotomi Taniguchi 18. Yuka Sadaka 19. Kie Tamai 20. Iroha Nagata 21. Moe Tsukui 22. Komachi Imakugi 23. Yuki Ito