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Sarah Hirini and Portia Woodman to start on return to Black Ferns, Stacey Fluhler on the bench & More Breaking News




What: Black Ferns v Japan. Where: Eden Park, Auckland. When: Saturday, September 24, 4:30pm. Live coverage: Sky Sport 1, live updates on Stuff.

Sevens stars Sarah Hirini and Portia Woodman are straight into the Black Ferns team for their final test before the Rugby World Cup opener at Eden Park in two weeks.

As is outside back Stacey Fluhler, albeit from the bench, with Hirini starting at openside flanker and Woodman on the right wing in Auckland on Saturday.

Football Highlights

The trio were 15s World Cup winners with the Black Ferns in 2017.

Portia Woodman and Sarah Hirini with the 2017 World Cup trophy.

David Rogers/Getty Images

Portia Woodman and Sarah Hirini with the 2017 World Cup trophy.

They joined the squad after the Sevens World Cup this month in Cape Town when the Black Ferns sevens finished with silver, losing the final to Australia.

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Hirini played 10 tests in 2016 and 2017 but has since led the Black Ferns sevens for much of their success, culminating in gold at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

It will be Hirini’s first test since the 2017 World Cup final win over England in Belfast, while Woodman and Fluhler are back after playing on last year’s northern tour.

Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith said they are world-class and welcomed their return.

“They are hugely professional in terms of their preparation and they came in knowing all the plays so I’m confident they’ve done the homework and they deserve an opportunity,” Smith said.

Woodman comes into the side for Ayesha Leti-I’iga, moving Ruby Tui to the left wing for the team’s first test against Japan and their first at Eden Park since 2019.

Stacey Fluhler, pictured scoring at the Sevens World Cup, will get her chance from the bench.

Gallo Images/Getty Images

Stacey Fluhler, pictured scoring at the Sevens World Cup, will get her chance from the bench.

Smith said destructive winger Leti-I’iga is being rested after starting all five tests this season, scoring seven tries.

“She was the best player in the [Pacific Four Series] in June, but you’ve got to look after these players as well,” Smith said.

“She’s one who will be advantaged by training a couple of weeks without having to play a game.”

Amy du Plessis and Theresa Fitzpatrick, who switched from sevens earlier, line up in the midfield for a second time and Renee Holmes returns at fullback.

Du Plessis and Fitzpatrick started together when the Black Ferns trounced Australia 52-5 in Christchurch last month to retain the O’Reilly Cup.

Liana Mikaele-Tu’u comes back to start at blindside flanker to form a loose forward trio with Hirini and No 8 Charmaine McMenamin.

Wayne Smith has welcomed the additional sevens players back to the Black Ferns ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Wayne Smith has welcomed the additional sevens players back to the Black Ferns ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Loose forwards Alana Bremner (knee) and co-captain Kennedy Simon are unavailable because of injury.

Bremner is absent for the first time since Smith became coach in April after starting all five matches and Simon is a nursing a calf problem.

Kendra Cocksedge returns at halfback with Ruahei Demant the captain at first five-eighth, with Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and Hazel Tubic named as their respective cover.

Chelsea Bremner and Joanah Ngan-Woo start at lock with Maiakawanakaulani Roos in reserve.

Luka Connor has been preferred to Georgia Ponsonby at hooker and starts in between experienced props Amy Rule and Phillipa Love.

Rookie props Awhina Tangen-Wainohu and Santo Taumata, who have only played one test each, are on the bench with openside flanker Kendra Reynolds.

Liana Mikaele-Tu'u returns to start at Eden Park.

Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Liana Mikaele-Tu’u returns to start at Eden Park.

Props Tanya Kalounivale (ankle) and Krystal Murray have been listed as unavailable because of injury.

The Black Ferns are expected to comfortably beat Japan, who are ranked 13th in the world and are preparing for their fifth World Cup.

“We wanted to play them. We’ve seen them play a couple of times this year, they beat Australia, they are quick and are going to be a different challenge for us which is important,” Smith said.

“This weekend we want to see a progression from where we have been. We didn’t play very well in Adelaide so now it’s a matter of getting better at what we are good at.”

The Black Ferns have won five tests in a row this season but stumbled to a 22-14 win over the Wallaroos in Adelaide in their last fixture four weeks ago.

Their opening match when they host the World Cup for the first time is against Australia at Eden Park on October 8.

Black Ferns: Renee Holmes, Portia Woodman, Amy du Plessis, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Ruby Tui, Ruahei Demant (c), Kendra Cocksedge; Charmaine McMenamin, Sarah Hirini, Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, 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, Stacey Fluhler, Hazel Tubic.

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