A busy month of matches in November continues this weekend with four of the top five sides in the World Rugby Women's Rankings in action and Scotland and Spain looking to take a step towards Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 in the first leg of their qualifier to determine the final European qualifier for the showpiece event in Ireland.
England and New Zealand are no strangers to each other, having met in three Women's Rugby World Cup finals. They are currently the top two sides in the rankings after the Red Roses climbed above Canada with victory over France and Ireland. Canada and Ireland meanwhile haven't played for a decade and will be eager to lay down a marker at UCD Bowl.
SCOTLAND v SPAIN
Three places remain to be filled in the Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 line-up and Scotland and Spain are eager to ensure they claim one with victory in their home and away play-off over the next eight days. Scotland haven't won a test match since 2013, but coach Shade Munro and his charges are eager to set that record straight in Glasow on Friday and again in Madrid on 26 November.
Lisa Martin will captain the side from inside-centre with flanker Louise McMillan will make her Scotland debut at Scotstoun Stadium with Sarah Bonar and Rachel Malcolm in line for their first appearances off the bench against Las Leonas in match shown live on BBC Alba.
Put simply by Munro: “We’re playing a World Cup qualifier, if we don’t win we don’t qualify.”
Spain's line-up has a distinctive Olympic feel to it with no fewer than eight of their sevens players who were involved in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games named in the starting XV, including playmaker Patricia Garcia at fly-half in a backline featuring five of that octet in Iera Echebarria, Vanesa Rial, Maria Casado and Barbara Pla.
- The sides will meet again on 26 November in Madrid with the winner on aggregate qualifying for WRWC 2017 and joining England, USA and Italy in Pool B
- Spain booked their place in this qualifier by winning the Rugby Europe Women's Championship on home soil last month
- Five years have passed since the sides last met in a full international with Spain emerging 28-13 winners in Madrid with tries from Isabel Rodríguez, Aroa Gonzalez, Patricia Garcia and Laura Esbri
Spain are the higher ranked of the nations in ninth but can only improve their rating by a maximum of three tenths with a victory of more than 15 points in Glasgow. By contrast Scotland, ranked 13th, will gain a minimum of 1.79 points if they can beat Spain. A victory by more than 15 points would earn the Scots 2.69 points but that wouldn't be enough to lift them above South Africa into 12th place. It would, though, condemn Spain to a one place fall with Wales the beneficiaries.
ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand, fresh from a two-test series win over Australia last month, kick-off their three test tour against England at the Twickenham Stoop, the site of their meeting in the Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 final. Fiao'o Fa'amausili, a nominee for World Rugby Women's Player of the Year 2016, will captain a Black Ferns side featuring Olympic silver medallists Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman in the starting line-up.
"We've prepared well and adjusted to the cooler temperatures but we are under no illusion that playing the English at home will be a tough assignment. They will be wanting a win in front of their fans," admitted coach Glenn Moore. "I believe we have the right mix of experience and newer players in the Black Ferns and everyone is really motivated to play and put out a good performance."
World champions England will include their own Olympians with four in the starting line-up, including Great Britain captain Emily Scarratt, who returns from concussion for her first appearance of the November series to partner Rachael Burford in the centres. Danielle Waterman, Katy Mclean and Natasha Hunt complete the Olympians in an England backline seeking a third win of the month after narrow wins over France (10-5) and Ireland (12-10).
"This series is about building on performance and developing as a squad," insisted England coach Simon Middleton. "We expect a tough test against the Black Ferns, as the world's number one side. We have two tough games under our belts where we have had the opportunity to test our resilience and the strength and depth of our squad."
- Rochelle Clark will become the most capped women's player of all-time if she comes off the bench for her 116th appearance for England
- The sides have met 23 times before with New Zealand having won on 16 occasions, including the last four
- New Zealand won the last meeting 26-7 on the way to winning the Women's Rugby Super Series in Canada last year
- The last time the sides meet on English soil was in December 2012 when the Red Roses triumphed 32-23 at Twickenham
- New Zealand have won on the three occasions the sides have met in the Women's Rugby World Cup finals of 2002, 2006 and 2010
Whatever happens in this encounter between the top two nations in the World Rugby Women's Rankings, New Zealand cannot surrender their position at the top as even an England victory by more than 15 points at the Twickenham Stoop will still leave them just under eight tenths behind the Black Ferns. England's return to second in the rankings could be shortlived as defeat for them and victory for Canada in Dublin would see the sides swap places again. New Zealand can improve their rating by up to 1.33 points with an emphatic victory and where Canada to also lose, their cushion at the top could grow to 6.79 points.
IRELAND v CANADA
Canada, like their WRWC 2017 Pool A opponents New Zealand, are getting their November campaign underway this weekend with a first meeting with Ireland in a decade and have named two of their Olympic bronze medallists in their back-row in captain Kelly Russell and Karen Paquin, while World Rugby Women's Player of the Year 2014 Magali Harvey and Elissa Alarie make their return to the 15s programme for the first time since WRWC 2014 in France.
Ireland will again be missing their captain Niamh Briggs as she continues her recovery from injury, so Paula Fitzpatrick will continue to lead from number eight as the hosts look to bounce back from a narrow 12-10 loss to England last Sunday. Coach Tom Tierney has handed two more players their Ireland debuts for this UCD Bowl encounter in second-row Nichola Fryday and flanker Anna Caplice.
"This weekend, Canada will present us with a new and different challenge," said Tierney. "We know England well from playing them in the Six Nations, but this week's opposition is less familiar to us. They have a very strong rugby programme in Canada and were runners-up at the last World Cup, so we will have to play smart rugby against them and stick to our game plan."
- This will be the third meeting between the sides and the first since Ireland won 15-8 in April 2006
- Canada were emphatic 57-0 winners when the sides first met on the Women's Rugby World Cup stage in 2002
Canada lost second place in the World Rugby Women's Rankings to England after the Red Roses recorded two victories last week, but victory over Ireland at the UCD Bowl in tandem with a New Zealand win in Twickenham will take the touring Canadians back to second. Canada can fall no lower than second, even with a heavy defeat. Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 hosts Ireland can climb to a new high of fourth if they beat Canada by more than 15 points in the second of three internationals they host in Dublin in November.