By Ali Donnelly
New Zealand's star outside back Amiria Rule (pictured) will miss the World Cup because of an ongoing knee injury.
Her absence will be a big blow for the Black Ferns as she was a leading player on their recent tour of England and was a star of the 2006 World Cup.
Rule, who has been to two World Cups, has been replaced, somewhat surprisingly, with 45-year-old Anna Richards, the former captain who wasnt thought to be in contention for a return to the international squad.
Rule had suffered the serious knee injury earlier this year but had been deemed sufficiently recovered to be named in New Zealands World Cup squad last month. Now however, the Black Fern medical team have deemed her weak knee to be too much of a risk and have ruled her out of the squad, leaving her behind to play club rugby for the summer.
While hugely disappointing for the player herself, her departure and replacement with Richards will force a re-jig in coach Brian Evans backline thinking with Rule's ability to play in a range of positions, including inside and outside centre and fullback, likely to prove a big loss.
Richards is not a like for like replacement as she has played most of her rugby at fly-half, and there are suggestions that Evans is looking at Canterbury flanker Aroha Savage, who has also played rugby league for New Zealand, to run at inside centre during the World Cup. Savage made her Black Fern debut on the tour of England last year.
Richards will give the squad a huge experience boost as the one-time captain is one of the most celebrated players in New Zealand and is the country's most capped player with 44 caps- the low number indicative of the lack of test games the Black Ferns play.
Richards made her debut for the Black Ferns in 1990 and was an ever-present right through to 2007 when she was part of the team who beat Australia in two tests. Her career includes three world titles, repeated NPC crowns plus club seasons in England and Italy.
She was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005 for services to rugby.
Coach Brian Evans said: Amiria is understandably very disappointed and we all feel for her, as we know how hard she has worked to get to her third World Cup.
We are lucky enough to have someone of Annas experience step up, for what will be her fourth Womens Rugby World Cup, he added.