Black Ferns full-back Renee Holmes is looking forward to taking WXV 1 on a tour of New Zealand when the inaugural edition of the tournament kicks off this October.
On Monday, the match schedules for all three levels of World Rugby’s new annual global women’s 15s competition were confirmed. The top level will get underway in Wellington on 20 October when England take on Australia.
The hosts will kick-off their campaign a day later when their meeting with France headlines a double-header at Sky Stadium that begins with Canada taking on Wales.
Round two will be staged in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, before the opening campaign reaches its conclusion at Go Media Stadium Mount Smart in Auckland between 3-4 November.
Having been cheered onto a sixth Rugby World Cup crown by record crowds in Auckland and Whangārei less than 12 months ago, Holmes is excited that more of her team-mates will get an opportunity to play in front of friends and family.
“There's a lot of girls that are going to get that chance to play at home in front of their whānau and friends,” she told World Rugby.
“Obviously, the World Cup was heavily based in the North Island and to spread it down south, even down into Dunedin, it's going to be awesome.”
WXV forms part of World Rugby’s strategy to accelerate and supercharge the growth of the women’s game, and with the addition of the World Rugby Pacific Four Series, it will guarantee the Black Ferns six test matches every year.
The inaugural edition of WXV 1, meanwhile, will bring the hosts back into contact with three of the teams they beat on their run to the RWC 2021 title last year – Wales, France and England – including a final day showdown with the Red Roses on 4 November.
“Moving forward, getting more regular test matches confirmed… it's huge,” Holmes added. “Being able to play those top-tier teams year in, year out, leading into World Cups is really crucial.
“Getting that anticipation of getting to a World Cup not having played a northern hemisphere team for a while, that's going to disappear and we're going to be able to match up in and get those quality games year in, year out, which is exciting.”
Leading the way
Holmes contributed 35 points to the Black Ferns’ winning effort on home soil last year, scoring two tries and providing a safe pair of hands and trusty boot at full-back.
She has since helped South Island franchise Matatū to the Super Rugby Aupiki 2023 title, finishing as the season’s top-scorer with 59 points, and has witnessed first-hand the catalyst provided to the growth of the game in New Zealand by RWC 2021.
“The numbers and growth back home in the game and the youth has shot through the roof. So many junior players are signing up to play,” she said.
“You've got players recognising you on the street, young kids recognising you on the street now asking for a photo and I think we’re definitely changing the game.
“And I think the Black Ferns, we are one of the teams that are leading the way in that space, being full-time professionals now.
“I guess the engagement that we do have with our fans and whanāu in the environment that we've created here… it's exciting.”
Holmes admits it is a “pretty awesome feeling” to have people stop her in the street and talk about rugby. “There’s definitely a lot of young girls, but it's young boys now, it's older men, it's everyone,” she added.
“They're all commenting on how much, I guess rugby's starting to influence them or they may never have watched rugby before, but now they think they're our biggest fans.
“It's crazy the impact we're having, and I think the girls are starting to realise it, which is cool too.”