It’s a battle of the No 2 versus the No 5-ranked teams in the women’s world game and, while the Black Ferns will be favoured, having last lost to the USA in 1991, followed by 12 straight victories, the USA women’s Eagles are not to be written off.
Disappointing in the 36-5 defeat to Canada in the Tauranga wet, the USA bounced back in gritty fashion to edge the Australian Wallaroos 16-14 in Waitakere last Sunday, a result that propelled them up two places in the world rankings.
The USA presented a strong scrum against Australia, led by tryscorer and loosehead prop Hope Rogers, the most experienced of the team, with 34 caps. A majority of the squad ply their trade in the high quality Allianz Premier 15s in England.
“We are looking forward to the challenge that New Zealand will present this Saturday. They have a very aggressive continuity game and have shown that they aren’t afraid to attack from all areas of the pitch. Last weekend against Australia we had real intent, both tactically and physically, for around 55 minutes. This week we know how to get the result we want. We know we will have to not only do more of the good things from last week, but for a longer period of time. That’s our aspiration, that’s been our focus,” says USA head coach Rob Cain.
There was much to like about the Black Ferns’ second stanza against Canada, running in four unanswered tries, but they would like to start in more assertive fashion, which we have yet to see in this series.
Director of rugby Wayne Smith and his selectors have rung nine changes to the starting XV. They did not have access to outstanding young No 8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker and halfback Ariana Bayler, both of whom are injured, while Ruby Tui, scorer of a superb solo try against Canada, has returned to the sevens programme to prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
Into the mix for a Test debut is BOP hooker Natalie Delamere, just two months after scoring a try for the Waratahs in the Australian Super W final.
It will be potentially a big moment for possible debutante Lucy Anderson, who is named on the bench. She trialled as a midfielder for the Black Ferns as far back as 2013, moved to No 8 and has now found a home in the front-row.
There are first Test starts for the Counties Manukau Heat duo of halfback Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and prop Leilani Perese, while second five Sylvia Brunt, who was a bundle of energy off the pine last Sunday, is also accorded that honour.
There is a vastly experienced look to the Black Ferns backs reserves, with Kendra Cocksedge joined by Chelsea Semple, back from illness, and Hazel Tubic. Captain Ruahei Demant reverts to the No 10 jersey.
“We need to focus on getting our stuff right. Everyone can see the sort of game we are trying to play and it’s starting to come together,” says Smith.
“Clearly, USA will be a good challenge for us, and we will need to be spot-on to meet that challenge. We need to make sure we are getting all the detail right and can’t let winning become the enemy.”
The last meeting between these two nations came in 2019, when the Black Ferns won 33-0 in San Diego. At Rugby World Cup 2017, the Black Ferns won 45-12 in the semifinal. Their last clash on New Zealand soil came way back in 1999, when the home side won 65-5 in Palmerston North.
This match will be a good precursor to the Rugby World Cup in spring for both sides. The Black Ferns will face Scotland on this ground on October 22, while the USA plays Italy (October 9) and Japan (October 15) in Whangarei.
Kickoff for New Zealand-USA is at 4pm on Saturday from Semenoff Stadium. The weather is iffy, but the Black Ferns will not go into their shells as they push on with their up tempo continuity game. It will be televised on Spark Sport, preceded, at 1.30pm, by the Australian Wallaroos versus Canada. Counties Manukau referee Lauren Jenner will take the whistle for that one.
Black Ferns: 1. Pip Love 2. Natalie Delamere 3. Leilani Perese 4. Joanah Ngan-Woo 5. Chelsea Bremner 6. Alana Bremner 7. Kendra Reynolds 8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u 9. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu 10. Ruahei Demant (c) 11. Ayesha Leti-I’iga 12. Sylvia Brunt 13. Amy du Plessis 14. Renee Wickliffe 15. Renee Holmes
Reserves: 16. Georgia Ponsonby 17. Krystal Murray 18. Lucy Anderson 19. Maia Roos 20. Tafito Lafaele 21. Kendra Cocksedge 22. Chelsea Semple 23. Hazel Tubic
USA: 1. Hope Rogers 2. Joanna Kitlinski 3. Nick James 4. Jordan Matyas 5. Kristine Sommer 6. Elizabeth Cairns 7. Rachel Johnson 8. Kate Zackary (c) 9. Carly Waters 10. Megan Foster 11. Charlotte Clapp 12. Katana Howard 13. Alev Kelter 14. Tess Feury 15. Bulou Mataitoga
Reserves: 16. Kathryn Treder 17. Maya Learned 18. Charli Jacoby 19. Evelyn Ashenbrucker 20. Georgie Perris-Redding 21. Bridget Kahele 22. Gabby Cantorna 23. Meya Bizer