Australia, New Zealand enter World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2024

The Wallaroos and Black Ferns will make their tournament bows this weekend as the race for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 and WXV 2024 qualification heats up.

New Zealand will get the defence of their World Rugby Pacific Four Series title underway this weekend as Australia begin life under new head coach Jo Yapp.

Having watched USA and Canada kick-off the Pacific Four Series 2024 in Los Angeles last month, the action now switches to Oceania over the next three weekends.

On Saturday, the Black Ferns take on the Women’s Eagles in Hamilton before Yapp leads the Wallaroos into a test for the first time, against Canada in Sydney.

Although Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 qualification cannot be decided this weekend, the two matches will play a part in deciding who takes the ticket on offer from the Pacific Four Series.

Canada and New Zealand have already made sure of their place at England 2025 via their performance at Women’s RWC 2021, meaning whoever finishes higher in the standings out of Australia and USA will join them at next year’s showpiece tournament.

The top three teams in the standings at the end of the final match on 25 May, meanwhile, will also qualify for WXV 1 in Canada this September and October.

The team that finishes fourth will play in WXV 2 in South Africa, as USA did last year.

New Zealand look to bounce back

Black Ferns director of rugby Allan Bunting has included three debutants in his match-day squad for the visit of USA to FMG Stadium (kick-off 14:05 local time, GMT+12).

Second-row Maama Vaipulu and scrum-half Maia Joseph – daughter of Japan men’s coach and former All Black Jamie – have been selected to start while fly-half Hannah King has been named among the replacements.

The hosts, who have won all six of the Pacific Four Series matches they have contested, will be keen to start their campaign with a win having endured a disappointing WXV 1 on home soil at the end of 2023.

New Zealand were beaten by France and England last October and November as they finished fourth in the standings, below Canada and Australia as well as the Red Roses, the inaugural champions.

Fortunately for Bunting and the Black Ferns, they have an excellent record against Saturday’s opponents.

The USA won their Women’s RWC 1991 semi-final 7-0, but have lost each of the 14 fixtures since.

Last year, the Women’s Eagles built a 17-5 lead in Ottawa as the Black Ferns struggled to cope with the sending off of Iritana Hohaia. New Zealand stormed back, though, scoring five tries in a little over 32 minutes to win 39-17.

USA coach Sione Fukofuka has made four changes to the side that lost against Canada, his second match in charge, a fortnight ago.

Prop Charli Jacoby, flanker Freda Tafuna, centre Eti Haungatau and winger Lotte Clapp all come into the starting XV as the Women’s Eagles go in search of their first Pacific Four Series win in two years.

A USA victory would lift the Women’s Eagles three places in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings, up to seventh from 10th, their lowest ever position.

New Zealand cannot improve on their rating with a 15th win in the fixture due to the 17.99 points and eight places that separate the teams in the rankings before home weighting is factored in.

Wallaroos start new era

Jo Yapp will hope to build on the Wallaroos’ impressive 2023 when she begins her reign as coach against Canada at Allianz Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 16:55 local time, GMT+10).

Australia finished third in both the Pacific Four Series and WXV 1 last year and they are bidding to win three tests in a row for the first time since 2006.

However, they remain winless against this weekend’s opponents in five previous attempts and lost the corresponding fixture 45-7 in Ottawa last year.

Yapp has made six personnel changes to the Wallaroos team that ended WXV 1 2023 with victory against Wales.

Included in those is a welcome return for number eight Piper Duck, who missed the entirety of 2023 through injury.

Michaela Leonard retains the captaincy, while the uncapped trio of Hera-Barb Malcolm Heke, Sally Fuesaina and Samantha Wood have been named on the replacements’ bench.

“Hera-Barb, Sam and Sally are all deserving of their opportunity to make their debut and I’m looking forward to them making an impact in this team,” Yapp said.

“The girls are excited to play their first test match of the year and put in a good performance at Allianz Stadium in front of our home fans.”

Canada second-row Tyson Beukeboom, meanwhile, will become her country’s joint most-capped women’s player when she runs out in Sydney on Saturday.

Trailfinders Women player Beukeboom will pull level with Gillian Florence on 67 caps, and she will hope to mark the occasion with a try having scored a hat-trick against the Wallaroos 11 months ago and added another score against USA two weeks ago.

Beukeboom’s long-term team-mate, Alex Tessier will become only the eighth Canadian woman to reach 50 tests and she will be joined in the centres in Sydney by Fancy Bermudez.

Bermudez is one of the three changes to the team that beat the Women’s Eagles, with full-back Sarah-Maude Lachance and prop McKinley Hunt the other players who come in.

Canada will secure WXV 1 qualification with victory. They can also climb above France and into third in the rankings, but they must beat their hosts by more than 15 points to do so.

Should the Wallaroos win the match by the same margin then the gap between them in fifth and fourth-placed Canada in the rankings would be cut to just 1.16 rating points (from 4.66).

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Last updated: May 10, 2024, 2:49:44 PM
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