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Wallaroos 'craving' World Cup atmosphere ahead of Black Ferns opener

By AAP
Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Wallaroos will begin their women’s rugby World Cup campaign against hosts New Zealand at a packed Eden Park, but it’s England who’ll start title favourites.

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The Wallaroos have put the pressure back on the hosts as they prepare for a women’s rugby World Cup opener in front of 40,000 fans.

Australia will play defending champions New Zealand on Saturday at a packed Eden Park in Auckland.

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Sevens star Sharni Williams will make her 15-a-side return at inside centre for Jay Tregonning’s No.5 ranked team, while fellow 7s talent Bienne Terita has been retained on the wing after scoring a double on debut.

Sera Naiqama will make her first start in the backrow, with prop Bridie O’Gorman starting ahead of Eva Karpani in the only other change to their last Test line-up.

Ivania Wong will be a threat on the wing while Australia’s most-capped player Liz Patu will wear the No.1.

“Most of the pressure is on our hosts,” Tregonning said.

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“The reality is that if you are playing international rugby at the highest level, this is the atmosphere and the pressure that you should be craving.

“What could be better than opening a rugby World Cup in front of a record-breaking crowd against the host nation?

“We want to use that energy to really inspire us, and feed our performance.”

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New Zealand co-captain Ruahei Demant is pinching herself.

“I will probably feel emotions I have never felt before,” she said.

“You kind of dream of opportunities like this … but you never think it would happen.

“To be one of the lucky ones, the right time in our careers; the stars are aligned.

“I can’t describe it because I don’t even know what it is going to be like.”

The hosts have dominated women’s rugby for nearly 20 years but won’t start as favourites, with England’s Red Roses unbeaten in 23 games after taking top spot in 2020.

No.4 ranked France is also a leading contender, hardened by competition in Europe’s Six Nations tournament and boasting wins in the last four matches against New Zealand.

The World Cup comes at a pivotal time for women’s rugby, after concerted efforts to increase the investment of money and resources by World Rugby and national rugby unions.

The top two teams from each group of four – Australia will also play Wales and Scotland – progress to the quarter-finals before the Eden Park decider on November 12.

WALLAROOS: Pauline Piliae-Rasabale, Bienne Terita, Georgina Friedrichs, Sharni Williams, Ivania Wong, Arabella McKenzie, Iliseva Batibasaga, Grace Hamilton, Shannon Parry (c), Emily Chancellor, Atasi Lafai, Sera Naiqama, Bridie O’Gorman, Adiana Talakai, Liz Patu. Bench: Ashley Marsters, Emily Robinson, Eva Karpani, Michaela Leonard, Grace Kemp, Layne Morgan, Trilleen Pomare, Lori Cramer.

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