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Pacific Fours preview

We look ahead to this week's Pacific Four Series. 

After launching last year in the USA, the Pacific Four Series for 2022 is being held in New Zealand over the next few weeks featuring the hosts, Canada, Australia and the USA. 

Last year, USA and Canada competed in the streamlined inaugural event in Glendale, Colorado, playing each other twice. Canada came out on top 15-9 and 26-13. 

NEW ZEALAND

The fact that the defending world champions go into the opening game of a crucial World Cup preparation series with seven new debutants, is a reminder of the challenge New Zealand face in retaining their crown.

With key rivals England and France now confidently rotating experienced squads, New Zealand are still seeking to find their best combinations.

Under a new-look coaching team, led by the estimable Wayne Smith, the team for the opener includes several storylines though, not least the inclusion of the highly decorated sevens star Ruby Tui on the wing.

In the  starting team there are also newcomers in Kelsey Teneti in the centre, second row Chelsea Bremner and number 8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker while Kendra Cocksedge will become the most capped Black Fern ever winning her 58th cap. 

On the upside for New Zealand, the team is starting to move on from the recent wave of negativity surrounding both culture and results.  

A combination of factors suggest they will be much improved, including the new coaching team – not forgetting the arrival of Allan Bunting who has been looking at the team environment; professionalism for the players since the turn of the year and the new Super Rugby Aupiki competition getting off the ground at last.

Arguably Australia also presents perfect opposition for them to get this mini new era off to a good start. 

In 19 meetings New Zealand have never lost to their nearest rivals and given this is their first outing at home in three years, it’s unlikely the Black Ferns will be lacking motivation.

The two teams have also been drawn together in Pool A at the World Cup.

How Ruahei Demant fares at both 10 and with the captaincy will be a key watch - she replaces the unfortunate Les Elder who is out with injury. 

Canada will likely present the toughest and most realistic test of their ambitions though later on in the series, but expect New Zealand to kick off with a win.

New Zealand team to play Australia: 1. Krystal Murray, 2. Georgia Ponsonby, 3. Amy Rule, 4. Maiakawanakaulani Roos, 5. Chelsea Bremner, 6. Alana Bremner, 7. Kendra Reynolds, 8. Kaipo Olsen-Baker, 8. Kendra Cocksedge, 10. Ruahei Demant (c), 11. Ayesha Leti-I’iga, 12. Chelsea Semple, 13. Kelsey Teneti, 14. Ruby Tui, 15. Renee Holmes

Reserves: 16. Luka Connor, 17. Angel Mulu, 18. Tanya Kalounivale, 19. Joanah Ngan-Woo, 20. Tafito Lafaele, 21. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, 22. Hazel Tubic, 23. Cheyelle Robins-Reti

AUSTRALIA

The Wallaroos come into this series with more recent test rugby under their belts than their opponents but will nonetheless be the outsiders for the competition.

The recent Tri-Series against Fiji and Japan included an encouraging 36-19 win against Fiji, but a disappointing 10-12 defeat to Japan in a game where their performance resulted in much criticism.

Despite these recent games, Australia have played very little test rugby over the years, a fact reflected in their record against their opponents. They have played Canada just three times (losing all three games), and the United States just five times (with just one win, at the 2002 World Cup). Ninteen- exactly a third of all of the tests Australia have played - have been against New Zealand, and they have lost them all.

Coach Jay Tregonning has brought nine uncapped players to New Zealand and named two for this weekend’s clash with Annabelle Codey and Cecilia Smith on the bench.  

The core of the team though is the same as that which played recent tests, though Western Force star Trilleen Pomare has earned herself a spot in the starting team running out in the number 10 jersey after coming off the bench in her last two matches against Japan and Fijiana. 

Tregonning said: “The team has just come off a really valuable week back on the Gold Coast and we are excited to be in New Zealand ahead of the competition.” 

“Playing New Zealand in the first game of the Pacific Four really feels like a prelude for what is to come in the first match of the pool games at the Rugby World Cup.” 

“While the Black Ferns are formidable opponents this match will be perfect for our preparations before we travel back to New Zealand in October.”

Wallaroos team to play New Zealand: 1. Liz Patu, 2. Adiana Talakai, 3. Bridie O’Gorman, 4. Michaele Leonard, 5. Kaitlan Leaney, 6. Emily Chancellor, 7. Shannon Parry (c), 8. Grace Hamilton, 9. Iliseva Batibasaga, 10. Trileen Pomare, 11. Ivania Wong, 12. Pauline Piliae-Rasabale, 13. Georgina Friedrichs, 14. Mahalia Murphy, 15. Lori Cramer

Reserves: 16. Ashley Marsters, 17. Madison Schuck, 18. Asoiva (Eva) Karpani, 19. Annabelle Codey, 20. Piper Duck, 21. Layne Morgan, 22. Cecilia Smith, 23. Arabella McKenzie

 

CANADA

Canada go into the tournament as holders of the Pacific 4s title, having won a truncated first series in November when they played and beat the United States 2-0 in Glendale.

With Australia and New Zealand now free to join in as well, retaining the title is likely to be rather more tricky.

Canada will be confident of a win when they open the tournament against perennial rivals the United States.

The 2021 Pacific Fours put Canada in a 20-19 lead in the series - the first time Canada have led in a rivalry that goes back to 1987. This is in part due to their winning seven of the last eight games against the USA going back to 2016, their only loss coming in the 2019 Super Series.

Canada have a 100% record against Australia, although they have only played three times and have not met since the 2017 World Cup when Canada beat them in the fifth place-playoff 43-12.

Canada have been less successful against New Zealand, with 15 loses from 15 games, their most recent meeting being at the 2019 Super Series when the Ferns won 35-20.

Coach Kevin Rouet’s took away his top 45 players to a training camp in Langford last month, from which he has whittled his selection down to 32 players who will travel to New Zealand for the series.

Rouet is also new in hs role – he has only been head coach since the beginning of March this year, replacing Sandro Fiorino, for whom he was assistant coach for the last three years

His team will be confident of beating USA, who are shorn so many players for the first game who were involved in the English league final at the weekend though the Canadians are also missing a handful including Emily Tuttosi, Daleaka Menin who started for the Exeter Chiefs.

Canada have won seven of their last eight meetings with USA, the exception being a 20-18 loss in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in 2019.

Powerhouse backrow Sophie de Goede captains the team for the first time from number 8, a brilliant all-round player who is also a talented kicker while there is also key experience through players like Elissa Alarie who starts at 15. 

Canada team to play USA: 1 Brittany Kassil, 2 Veronica Harrigan, 3 Olivia DeMerchant, 4 Tyson Beukeboom, 5 Courtney Holtkamp, 6 Pamphinette Buisa, 7 Sara Svoboda, 8 Sophie de Goede, 9 Brianna Miller, 10 Taylor Perry, 11 Paige Farries, 12 Alexandra Tessier, 13  Sara Kaljuvee, 14 Sabrina Poulin, 15 Elissa Alarie 

Reserves:  16 Laura Russell, 17 Mikiela Nelson,  18 Maya Montiel,  19 Abby Duguid, 20 Emma Taylor, 21 AnaŃ—s Holly, 22 Maddy Grant. 23 Renee Gonzalez 

USA

Losing nine players, including their captain, for the opening game of the series thanks to their commitments in England is hardly an ideal start for coach Rob Cain, though the players are on their way to New Zealand now.

USA arrive in New Zealand on a seven-match losing streak dating back to a 20-18 victory over Canada in July 2019.

Four of those seven defeats have been against Canada with France, Ireland and England also putting USA to the sword.

Kristine Sommer is named captain for opening match with five new faces named in all. 

Cain is realistic about the challenges the first week presents.

“Not having nine players and the Captain from our original 28 player touring squad will of course be a challenge but when you add some context to it, what a great challenge to embrace this first week.

"What a great opportunity these first 23 players have in both showcasing the hard work and key learnings from both March Falcons fixtures in the UK and Colorado. We know how powerful, direct and accurate Canada can be and we are looking forward to both the physical and tactical challenges that lay ahead.

"We are excited for all the potential new caps, each has already made their mark this week and all of their stories continue to showcase both the highs and lows of players pursuing their rugby dreams."

While the opening game may be a tough ask, the arrival of key players coming off the back of a competitive season in England, makes the rest of their games a fascinating prospect. Reinforcements like Kate Zackary, Hope Rogers, Gabby Cantorna and Alev Kelter, will provide a huge boost while Cain will have had a chance to try out a few other faces. 

USA will certainly feel Australia are beatable while the final round against New Zealand presents them with a historic opportunity.  

USA team to play Canada: 1 Catie Benson, 2 Joanna Kitlinski, 3 Nick James, 4 Kristine Sommer, 5 Evi Ashenbrucker, 6 Hallie Taufoou, 7 Georgie Perris-Redding, 8 Kathryn Johnson, 9 Bridget Kahele, 10 McKenzie Hawkins ,  6
11 Tess Feury, 12 Katana Howard, 13 Bulou Mataitoga, 14 Emily Henrich, 15 Meya Bizer

Reserves: 16 Kathryn Treder,  17 Maya Learned, 18 Charli Jacoby, 19 Jordan Matyas, 20 Elizabeth Cairns, 21 Shelby Lin,  22 Amy Talei Bonte,  23 Sam Sullivan

 

Pacific Four Series opening round games (available on a World Rugby Live Stream)
 
Monday, 6 June – KO 12:15 local time  
Canada v USA 
Tauranga Domain, Tauranga
 
Monday, 6 June – KO 14:45 local time 
New Zealand v Australia
Tauranga Domain, Tauranga