An historic weekend of women's international rugby kicks off on Friday with the first round of the Rugby Africa Women's Cup taking place in the Gauteng provincial town of Brakpan, to the west of Johannesburg.
Doubling as the qualifier for Women's Rugby World Cup 2021, the regional quadrangular tournament features three established teams in hosts South Africa, Kenya and Uganda and one test newcomer in Madagascar.
Both matches will count towards the World Rugby Women's Rankings, as will the match in Perth between rapidly-improving Australia and world champions New Zealand the following day, the first leg of a home-and-away series for the Laurie O'Reilly Memorial Trophy.
AUSTRALIA (7) v NEW ZEALAND (1)
Australia coach Dwayne Nestor has made three changes to the team that started the 46-3 win over Japan three weeks ago.
The front-row has two new props in Liz Patu and Evelyn Horomia, who replace Emily Robinson and Eva Karpani respectively, while the backline just has the one new face with Georgia Cormick promoted into the starting XV at the expense of Cobie-Jane Morgan who is unavailable.
Meanwhile, New South Wales’ Iliseva Batibasaga has been selected in a match-day 23 for the first time since 2016 after being named on the bench.
For the Black Ferns, Selica Winiata comes into the side in place of Kelly Brazier in what is an otherwise unchanged starting XV from the one that last took to the field, against England in the Women’s Rugby Super Series title decider in San Diego last month.
However, North Harbour prop Olivia Ward-Duin and Otago midfielder Kilisitina Moata’ane are set to make their test debuts from the bench at Optus Stadium. It’s a case of third time lucky for Moata’ane as late injuries have prevented her from taking her place in the side on two previous occasions.
- New Zealand have won all 17 previous encounters dating back to 1994
- Six points is the smallest winning margin for New Zealand, 22-16 in Canberra in October 2008. Their biggest is 64-0 back in July 1995
- Australia have only reached double figures in six of the 17 meetings, including the last three
- Australia recorded their first test wins on home soil last month, in a 2-0 series win against Japan
- New Zealand cannot improve their rating with an 18th successive win over Australia – but will lose top spot if they suffer a first defeat to the Wallaroos
- Australia will climb to a new high of fifth with victory, climbing above Italy and USA
- A draw would be enough to lift Australia above Italy into sixth
RUGBY AFRICA WOMEN'S CUP
SOUTH AFRICA v UGANDA
Seven players are in line to make their Springbok Women’s debuts on Friday in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifier against Uganda at the Bosman Stadium in Brakpan.
Coach Stanley Raubenheimer has named an exciting team featuring youth and experience for the Rugby Africa Women's Cup 2019 encounter, with the uncapped second-row Rights Mkhari, winger Ayanda Malinga and full-back Eloise Webb earning starts, while props Onako Jita and Maxine Engelbrecht, flanker Sizophila Solontsi and centre Aphiwe Ngwevu are set to make their debuts if required from the bench.
Mkhari, Malinga, Webb and Solontsi, however, will enter the match with international experience after being involved in the Springbok Women’s sevens set-up.
Raubenheimer’s team also features three players with Women's Rugby World Cup experience in second-row Celeste Adonis, scrum-half Tayla Kinsey and fly-half Zenay Jordaan. The trio all participated in Women’s World Cup 2014 in France with Jordaan also playing at England 2010.
Second-row Winnie Atyang captains a Ugandan side that mixes youth with experience. The international careers of tight-head prop Evelyne Aweku and centre Asha Nakityo date back to 2010 but a number of the other players only made their test bow last month against Kenya in the second leg of the Elgon Cup.
- This is only the second meeting between the sides, South Africa having won the inaugural test 63-3 in September 2013
- South Africa are on a four-match losing streak
- Uganda lost both their recent Elgon Cup matches to Kenya's Lionesses, 79-18 on aggregate
- Before those matches, the Lady Cranes hadn't played internationally for four years
- South Africa cannot improve their ranking in victory as a result of the 29.82 rating points between the sides before home weighting is factored in
- Defeat for South Africa would see them drop below Scotland and into 12th
- Uganda will equal their highest ever ranking of 39th with a victory but could climb as high as 36th depending on the margin of victory and outcome of Madagascar v Kenya
MADAGASCAR v KENYA
Number eight Laurence Rasoanandrasana has been handed the honour of captaining Madagascar in their first test. While uncapped, Rasoanandrasana does have international experience through her involvement with the sevens team.
Kenya will once again be captained by centre Philadelphia Olando, a nine-year test veteran who led the side in their recent Elgon Cup success against Uganda only weeks after scoring four tries in the first leg victory on home soil.
Only a handful of other players return from that 35-5 win in Kampala, including prop Imogen Hooper and flanker Janet Owino in the pack and back-three players, Christabel Lindo and Janet Okelo. Celestine Masinde renews her midfield partnership with Olando.
- This is the first meeting of the sides with Madagascar making their international debut
- Kenya go into the match as Elgon Cup champions following their home-and-away victories over Uganda
- Madagascar provide Kenya with their first opposition other than Uganda since the Lionesses began playing test rugby in 2006
- Kenya are unbeaten in their last six matches dating back to June 2013
- Madagascar will enter the World Rugby Women’s Rankings with a starting rating of 40.00 points
- A debut victory will lift Madagascar to 33rd or 34th depending on the margin
- Kenya cannot improve their ranking as a win by more than 15 points would still leave them six hundredths behind Jamaica
- Kenya will fall between three and five places if they suffer a shock loss depending on the margin of defeat
The World Rugby Women's Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.