The wait is almost over for Black Ferns fans as the five-time Rugby World Cup winners play their first test match in more than two years, against England.
Sunday’s match at Sandy Park will headline a packed weekend of international rugby as the All Blacks face Wales in Cardiff, Scotland play Tonga in Edinburgh and Rugby Europe tournaments continue.
Ahead of the weekend, we take a look at five things to keep an eye on.
Black Ferns set to play 100th test
Last week, a graphic appeared on the official Black Ferns Twitter page that highlighted the team’s impressive dominance over the past 30 years.
Of the 99 squares on the graphic that show the team’s 99 official test matches to date, only 13 weren’t coloured in black, the colour signifying a New Zealand victory.
Eight of the squares were white to denote wins for England, who also held the Black Ferns to a draw in 2011 and have played the Kiwis in four Rugby World Cup finals.
It is fitting therefore, that it is the Red Roses who provide the opposition for New Zealand’s landmark match in Exeter on Sunday.
That England have usurped the Black Ferns as the number one team in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings since the Kiwis last played a test match in 2019 only adds to the occasion.
Long road almost over for Anscombe
Heading into Wales’ warm-up matches for Rugby World Cup 2019, Gareth Anscombe had seemingly made the number 10 jersey his own.
Anscombe turned in a Player of the Match performance as Wales secured the Six Nations Grand Slam with victory against Ireland that March, but disaster struck against England on 11 August, 2019, when he suffered a serious knee injury.
He subsequently missed out on Wales’ run to the RWC 2019 semi-finals and has endured a long road to recovery in the intervening 26 months.
The New Zealand-born playmaker only made his return to first-team action with the Ospreys this season and following two United Rugby Championship appearances, is back in the Wales team.
Saturday’s match at the Principality Stadium should be an emotional occasion for Anscombe, and he will hope to pick up where he left off more than two years ago.
Barrett to become rugby’s latest centurion
On the same weekend that the Black Ferns play their 100th test, All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett will become the game’s latest individual centurion.
The Rugby World Cup 2015 winner and two-time World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year will win his 100th test cap when New Zealand’s men take on Wales on Saturday.
Barrett made his All Blacks debut more than nine years ago, coming on as a replacement and contributing nine points to his country’s 60-0 defeat of Ireland in Hamilton on 23 June, 2012.
With the legendary Dan Carter pulling the string as fly-half, Barrett was used as an impact player until 2016, when he claimed the famous number 10 jersey as his own.
More recently, Barrett has switched between fly-half and full-back, but his importance to the team has not waned. In his 99 tests to date, the mercurial playmaker has scored 37 tries and contributed a total of 693 points, putting him third on the All Blacks’ all-time list.
He has also scored 65 points against Wales and will hope to add to that tally on Saturday.
Scotland ready to unleash Tuipulotu
Had it not been for the pandemic, Sione Tuipulotu could have made his Scotland debut in the summer.
Those matches were cancelled following a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad but the centre’s wait will come to an end when Scotland face Tonga, the country where his father Tuhefohe was born, on Saturday.
Centre Tuipulotu has enjoyed a circuitous route to the Scotland midfield. Born in Australia, he appeared at three successive World Rugby U20 Championships for the land of his birth – playing against Scotland at each – and made his professional debut for the Melbourne Rebels in 2016.
A stint in Japan followed, before Scotland got in touch with his agent to sound out Tuipulotu about a move to the Glasgow Warriors.
His Greenock-born grandmother Jaqueline had been a big influence on him growing up, and so he made the decision to move north. Both Tuipulotu and Scotland hope it is one that will pay off in the years to come.
Czech women put long unbeaten run on the line
The Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy 2021-22 continues on Saturday when Sweden welcomes defending champions Czechia to Norrkoping.
Hosts Sweden, coached by former Scotland international Claire Cruikshank and Rugby World Cup winner Tamara Taylor, kicked off this year’s competition with a 24-10 win in Finland two weeks ago.
Czechia may well pose a tougher test this weekend, however, having won the last two editions of the Women’s Trophy.
In doing so, the Czechs have not lost a test match since a 24-12 loss to Switzerland in October 2016.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means that Czechia has not played a test in almost two years. The opposition that day? Sweden, who Czechia beat 17-5 in Prague.