Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns v Australia
Where: Eden Park, Auckland; When: Saturday, 7.15pm
Live coverage: Spark Sport, live updates on Stuff
The Black Ferns will head into the Rugby World Cup with a settled side, making just one personnel change from their 95-12 win over Japan two weeks ago.
Stacey Fluhler will start at centre against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday [kickoff 7.15pm], with Amy du Plessis moving to second five-eighth and Theresa Fitzpatrick dropping out of the squad entirely.
There will be another positional change in the loose forwards, with Liana Mikaele-Tu’u starting at No 8 and Charmaine McMenamin starting at No 6 – the opposite of how they lined up against Japan at the same venue.
Coach Wayne Smith confirmed he was yet to finalise his strongest lineup and said in a statement that the tweaks were a case of continuing to explore options.
“We have a lot of players that have the ability to fill starting positions, so we need to give opportunities and see who takes them.
“We’ve wanted to look at Amy at second-five for a while and Stacey comes into centre where she is world-class.
“Liana and Charmaine are an exciting combo. Liana is an explosive athlete who is really good in the line out so wanted to see her at eight.”
The Black Ferns have already played the Wallaroos three times this year, winning 23-10 in Mount Maunganui in June, 52-5 in Christchurch on August 20 and 22-14 in Adelaide on August 27.
They have never lost to their trans-Tasman rivals and will be looking to make a strong start to their Rugby World Cup title defence in front of a crowd of more than 35,000 – a new record for a women’s sports event in New Zealand.
“We don’t want the pressure of the crowd to change anything for our team," Smith said.
“We have to be free, play with joy, go out there and love what we are doing.”
“I’ve talked a lot about wanting to reflect the DNA of our country; we always play attacking rugby,” he added.
“That’s what I want us to show on the field and if we do, it’ll be exciting.
“This weekend is a real opportunity for us, with a big crowd there, to show what we can do.”
Four Black Ferns remain unavailable as they recover from injuries – winger Ayesha Leti-l’iga, loose forwards Alana Bremner and Kennedy Simon and prop Tanya Kalounivale.
Black Ferns: Renee Holmes, Ruby Tui, Stacey Fluhler, Amy du Plessis, Portia Woodman, Ruahei Demant (c), Kendra Cocksedge, Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, Sarah Hirini, Charmaine McMenamin, Chelsea Bremner, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Amy Rule, Luka Connor, Phillipa Love
Reserves: Georgia Ponsonby, Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, Santo Taumata, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Kendra Reynolds, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Hazel Tubic, Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt
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