Source: NZ Rugby, Rachael Whareaitu

England v New Zealand – A Preview

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For anyone who is strictly neutral, it’s a pity that these two old warhorses are once more sparring for a top place. For them and their supporters it is another final match of a series devoutly to be wished. The selections are shown below.

The Permutations

Almost inevitably, given the condensed nature of the competition, all sorts of outcomes are possible. The Red Roses hold one initial advantage, a lead of four points. But it doesn’t need a one-sided win for the Black Ferns to ensure the trophy. If they beat England and finish level on points, they would achieve their dearest wish.

A Central Topic of Dissent

Sir Wayne Smith has expressed his distaste of the rolling maul, even to the extent of wanting it banned. ‘It is legalised obstruction’, A more extreme view is held by Mark Reason, the former English rugby correspondent: ’It (the rolling maul) is against the very essence of pure rugby. It does not allow a fair contest for the ball.’

Yet this maul is very similar to the set scrum; one pack has the control of the ball; they legally move the ball from the front to the rear to gain an advantage; and a dominant scrum can push the opposition back any number of metres. Curiously, the Black Ferns twice used this same weapon to score tries against the Red Roses in the last RWC final. They won the game by three points.

Now we are left to wonder how big a role it will play in affairs; equally, how much of the game will see inventive open play?

The Coaches’ Thoughts

Allan Bunting’s view: ‘We’ve got an amazing forward pack who are going to give a lot of energy, but they can’t keep giving that sort of pace for 80 minutes, so we need to give them a bit of a rest and be a bit smarter around that. Our ladies enjoy playing rugby, they enjoy playing tackling rugby, but you just need to be a bit smarter in where we do that and how much we do it.’

As for his comment on the Ferns’ pack, much will come down to the strength of the replacements. Depending on how early he makes his changes, England may be able to assert more authority up front. The BF’s have already lost Tanya Kalounivale from tight-head to injury. She is replaced by Esther Faiaoga-Tilo, who is 29 and has gained one test cap.

His comment about smartness suggests an imperfect game-plan. Ruahei Demant is a top-class performer, the 2022 World Rugby player of the year, so it may well fall to her to ensure she keeps her pack from having to do too much chasing around.

Bunting makes only one change: Alana Bremner returns to the blind-side in place of Layla Sae.

Louis Deacon concentrated on the progress the squad has made over a long period; they have enjoyed each other’s company and are relishing the prospect of taking on the tournament hosts. Once again he offered no comment on the selections made.

They amount to two in the starting Fifteen, Rosie Galligan at lock and Tatyana Heard at inside centre. Three ‘new’ faces occupy the bench, Amy Cokayne, Sarah Beckett and Meg Jones. They ensure a heap of experience and quality. The squad amasses 818 caps. Marlie Packer will celebrate her 99th cap.

How the picture looks

Forwards have dominated the WXV1 scene thus far, led by Lark Atkin-Davies’ four tries in a game. But it’s most unlikely this match will be limited to a battle of rolling-maul tries. They may be England’s surest points-gainer, but they can be just as vulnerable to their effect. Instead, we can expect both sides to offer a varied diet of attacks.

Once more Aimee Barrett-Theron is honoured with the whistle for this vital game. She last met the two sides during the Ferns’ European tour two years ago at Exeter. In that game she showed a yellow card to Alana Bremner. Once more I express the pious hope: no cards!

As of Wednesday evening (UK time), tickets are still available.


England: 15 Ellie Kildunne, 14 Abby Dow, 13 Helena Rowland, 12 Tatyana Heard, 11 Claudia MacDonald, 10 Holly Aitchison, 9 Mo Hunt, 1 Mackenzie Carson, 2 Lark Atkin-Davies, 3 Sarah Bern, 4 Zoe Aldcroft, 5 Rosie Galligan, 6 Morwenna Talling, 7 Marlie Packer (captain), 8 Alex Matthews

Bench: 16 Amy Cokayne, 17. Hannah Botterman, 18. Maud Muir, 19. Sarah Beckett, 20. Maisy Allen, 21. Ella Wyrwas, 22. Megan Jones, 23. Jess Breach

New Zealand: 15 Renee Holmes, 14 Ruby Tui, 12 Sylvia Brunt, 13 Amy du Plessis, 11 Mererangi Paul, 10 Ruahei Demant (co-captain), 9 Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, 1 Kate Henwood, 2 Georgia Ponsonby, 3 Amy Rule, 4 Maiakawanakaulani Roos, 5 Chelsea Bremner, 6 Alana Bremner, 7 Kennedy Simon (co-captain), 8 Liana Mikaele-Tu’u

Bench: 16 Luka Connor, 17 Krystal Murray, 18 Sophie Fisher, 19 Layla Sae, 20 Lucy Jenkins, 21 Iritana Hohaia, 22 Patricia Maliepo, 23 Katelyn Vahaakolo