WXV 1 qualification will be on the line when the second round of the World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 is staged in front of a Canadian record crowd in Ottawa.
TD Place Stadium is set to host the final two rounds of action in the 2023 edition, starting on Saturday when Australia take on the USA before Canada face Rugby World Cup 2021 winners, New Zealand.
Even before a ball is kicked it is set to be an historic occasion with 8,000 tickets already sold, meaning it will be the most well-attended women’s event in Canadian rugby history.
It is fitting therefore that the winner of the second match between the hosts and the Black Ferns (kick-off 19:00 local time, GMT-4) will secure their place in the inaugural edition of WXV 1 in New Zealand this October and November.
The top three teams in this year’s Pacific Four Series will join England, France and Wales in the top level of World Rugby’s new annual global 15s competition, while the nation that finishes bottom of the standings will play in WXV 2.
Given Canada, who beat USA 50-17 in Madrid on 1 April, and New Zealand, 50-0 winners against Australia in Brisbane last week, start Saturday’s action on five competition points apiece, it means whoever emerges victorious from their match will have an unassailable lead on the team that ends the second round in fourth.
Saturday’s matches will be available to stream via the World Rugby website where a local broadcast deal is not in place.
Beukeboom “excited for an awesome game”
Canada head into the match on a high, having finished fourth at RWC 2021 and won each of their two tests this year, beating South Africa 66-7 in Madrid before their encounter with the USA.
In preparation for the resumption of their Pacific Four Series campaign, the hosts won an unofficial practice match against the Women’s Eagles last weekend as well.
Confidence could not be higher in the home camp, therefore, and Kevin Rouet and his players are keen to show the world that they can compete with, and beat, the world champions.
“I'm personally really excited,” Canada second-row Tyson Beukeboom, who is set to win her 58th cap on Saturday, told World Rugby earlier this week. “I think we have a really strong side.
“Obviously, they have a really strong side and we're going to come into this game blazing.
“And obviously they're going to too, that's the type of team that they are, so I think it's going to be a really big head-to-head battle, and I'm just really excited for an awesome rugby game for everyone to watch.
“My hope is that we come out on top. But at the end of the day, I think if we put out a really strong performance, we'll be pretty happy.”
Canada coach Rouet has made four changes to the team that beat the USA back in April, including handing a debut to sevens player Florence Symonds, who will line up on the right wing.
The Black Ferns themselves were much-changed when they got their 2023 Pacific Four Series campaign underway against the Wallaroos in Brisbane last week.
New director of rugby Allan Bunting’s first starting line-up included only six players who had started the RWC 2021 final win while the same number of new caps were handed out.
Bunting has made three changes to that team for the assignment against Canada, all in the front-row, which means the previously uncapped Katelyn Vahaakolo and Mererangi Paul, who scored two tries against Australia, retain their places on the wings.
Beukeboom and her team-mates have been able to study New Zealand’s defeat of Australia and they are expecting a tough challenge from a team that beat them 28-0 in the corresponding fixture last year.
“They have such a strong connection with each other that it really translates onto the field and you kind of see that connection across the board,” Beukeboom added.
“They just always seem to be on the same page and I think they do a really good job of bringing their new caps in and bringing them up to speed really quickly, and it translates onto the field.
“I think we're expecting a physical challenge. They're a big squad and they're very physical, so we've got to meet them with that physicality and beat them at that contact point and really get in that upfront battle and take over there and get in their faces and put pressure on them.”
Wallaroos to target USA power game
Saturday’s action at TD Place Stadium gets underway with Australia’s meeting with the USA (kick-off 16:00 local time), in what will be an equally important match in the shake up for WXV placings.
Both teams reached the RWC 2021 quarter-finals, but also shipped 50 points in their opening Pacific Four Series matches and will be keen for a reaction in Ottawa.
The Women’s Eagles won their meeting in last year’s tournament in New Zealand, 11 points from the boot of Gabby Cantorna proving decisive in a narrow 16-14 win, and they lead the head-to-head five victories to one.
Australia’s sole victory in the fixture came 21 years ago, during RWC 2002, but four of their five defeats to the USA have been by a margin of four points or fewer.
Whoever loses Saturday’s curtain-raiser will have to win their final match of the tournament – Australia against Canada and the USA versus New Zealand – on 14 July to have any hope of qualifying for WXV 1 later this year.
Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning has made four changes to his side as Harlequins team-mates Emily Chancellor and Arabella McKenzie come in alongside Adiana Talakai and Lori Cramer, who converted both of her side’s tries in last year’s fixture.
The USA will be without Exeter Chiefs team-mates Cantorna and Hope Rogers in Ottawa, while interim coach Rich Ashfield has selected three uncapped players, flanker Paluvava’u Freda Tafuna, scrum-half Taina Takuafa and replacement prop Mona Tupou.
Speaking earlier this week, Wallaroos assistant coach Scott Fava warned the Australians not to allow their opponents to dominate at the breakdown.
“We’ve got to look at their strengths which are their power game. They’ve got big girls that can generate momentum for them across the park," Fava said.
“They’ve also got a set-piece that they’re working on and putting a lot of trust into… they apply constant pressure at the ruck which was a big area that we lost around the tackle contest and making sure our two supporting players weren’t getting into position.
“If we do that against the USA, they will exploit that so that has been a focus.”