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12th July 2013 13:31

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Portia Woodman for New Zealand Women s team

Top class: Portia Woodman

The 1000th women's rugby Test match will be contested in Auckland this Saturday as New Zealand face long-standing rivals England at Eden Park.

England will be led by Lichfield number eight Sarah Hunter, who captains a starting side that has six women with over 50 caps to their name.

In the pack, Rochelle Clark - with 78 caps and two RWC finals under her belt - spearheads a front-row unit with Sophie Hemming starting at prop and Emma Croker at hooker. Marlie Packer returns from Sevens programme in the back-row alongside Hunter and Alexandra Matthews.

Katy McLean has been handed the vice-captaincy and will start at fly-half alongside La Toya Mason at scrum-half, while the likes of Emily Scarratt, Katherine Merchant and Rachael Burford are also back in XVs action following last month's Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament in Moscow.

"We are going into Saturday's first Test with a strong 23 who have a huge challenge to face at Eden Park on Saturday," said Street.

"There is a lot of experience in this squad and I am really happy with the 26 players we have brought to New Zealand as I know all of them will play an integral part in this Test series."

England head to New Zealand on the back of two consecutive series wins against the Black Ferns in 2011 and 2012, but England have not played on their turf since 2005 - or won a game in New Zealand since 2001.

"Although many players here have never played in New Zealand before, the vast majority of them have beaten the Black Ferns over the last two years and having that experience under their belts is going to give us confidence," added Street.

"Our ambition for this series is certainly to perform to our potential, and when we do that we know we can be a handful for any team in the world."

Meanwhile, Black Ferns coach Brian Evans has chosen a largely experienced side with a total 210 caps in the starting XV with another 77 on the bench.

Continuing an astonishing rise in her first year in rugby, Sevens World Cup champion Portia Woodman is the only new cap in the starting XV. She has been named on the wing.

The daughter and niece of former All Blacks Kawhena Woodman and Fred Woodman, Woodman's rapid promotion in the black jersey in both Sevens and XVs, comes almost a year after her first Sevens tournament in last August and as yet, she has not played competitive XVs

Woodman joined the Black Ferns squad after returning from the Sevens Rugby World Cup having claimed the tournament's top try and points scorer, an accolade she added to her claim on the IRB Women's World Series top try and points scoring statistics.

Fellow Sevens teammates Renee Wickliffe and Kelly Brazier have also been named in the starting XV with the tiny pocket rocket Selica Winiata, also a Sevens gold medallist, set to come off the bench.

Evans said overall experience was a key component of his selections.

"It was very hard to go past those players who we know are hard grafters, and seasoned campaigners. I am also excited that the Sevens girls have added a real intensity and pace to our backline," he explained.

"However, our experience up front will be crucial in securing ball. We know that the English will be physical and we need to make sure we are competitive."

Coming back from a long injury break, 2010 Rugby World Cup captain Victoria Grant makes her first return to the Black Ferns in a year, starting at fullback.

"It's great to have Victoria's cool, and calm experience back on the field. She will be an important anchor for the team," Evans said.

New caps Charmaine McMenamin and Chelsea Alley could make their debuts off the bench.

Saturday's Test match comes 30 years after the first women's Test match between France and the Netherlands. France won that match 4-0.

Black Ferns captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili welcomed the 1000th Test match as an important milestone in women's international rugby.

"This is a special occasion for both teams, and it is a fantastic achievement for the women's game and for rugby," she said.

"We approach all our Test matches as important achievements, but to celebrate this milestone in our first Test match of 2013 and our opening match of the International Series against England, is truly special. The continuing growth of the women's game around the world is encouraging, and I congratulate all those involved in developing the game because this milestone celebrates their work."

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Victoria Grant, 14 Portia Woodman, 13 Claire Richardson, 12 Amiria Rule, 11 Renee Wickliffe, 10 Kelly Brazier, 9 Kendra Cocksedge, 8 Casey Robertson, 7 Justine Lavea, 6 Aroha Savage, 5 Vita Dryden, 4 Rawinia Everitt, 3 Melodie Bosman, 2 Fiao'o Faamausili (capt), 1 Ruth McKay.
Replacements: 16 Karina Stowers, 17 Kathleen Wilton, 18 Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox, 19 Jackie Patea, 20 Charmaine McMenamin, 21 Emma Jensen, 22 Chelsea Alley, 23 Selica Winiata.

England: 15 Emily Scarratt, 14 Katherine Merchant, 13 Amber Reed, 12 Rachael Burford, 11 Kay Wilson, 10 Katy McLean, 9 La Toya Mason, 8 Sarah Hunter (capt), 7 Marlie Packer, 6 Alexandra Matthews, 5 Joanne McGilchrist, 4 Tamara Taylor, 3 Sophie Hemming, 2 Emma Croker, 1 Rochelle Clark.
Replacements: 16 Victoria Fleetwood, 17 Laura Keates, 18 Kate Newton, 19 Emily Braund, 20 Isabelle Noel-Smith, 21 Natasha Hunt, 22 Ceri Large, 23 Michaela Staniford.

Date: Saturday, July 13
Kick-off: 17:05 (06:05 BST)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland

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