England women will play three back-to-back tests against world champions New Zealand in 2011, 2012, and 2013, resulting in a tantalising nine tests between the world's top two ranked teams.
New Zealand’s world champion Black Ferns, who beat England 13-10 in the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup final the last time the two sides met, now have a guaranteed annual programme for the next three years after it was agreed between the RFU and NZRU.
England will host three tests in both the autumn of 2011 and 2012 before heading to New Zealand for three further tests in June 2013, a year before the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France, and the agreement is a major step-forward for the women’s game with limited regular competition previously between the world’s top two teams.
“We are really excited about this announcement," said Rosie Williams, managing director of the Rugby Football Union for Women.
"It is the first time that we have had a three year commitment to play New Zealand and this will do wonders from both a playing and profile perspective.
“This agreement is the icing on the cake for us. We now have regular tests against the current World Champions, as well against the USA and Canada in the Nations Cup, and of course Europe’s best in the Women’s RBS 6 Nations.”
With RWC Black Ferns coach Brian Evans taking a break from coaching this year, the NZRU also announced the appointment of assistant coach Grant Hansen as the head coach this year, with John Kyle being appointed as his assistant.
NZRU general manager professional rugby Neil Sorensen said the three year-programme and coaching team provided certainty for the Black Ferns heading into the 2014 Women’s RWC in France where they will be seeking to achieve an astonishing fifth consecutive title.
“This is a huge step forward for us and the Black Ferns. We have been working for a number of years to find meaningful opportunities and opponents for the Black Ferns and we are grateful to the RFU for making this possible,” Sorensen said.
“To know that we are going to see the world’s two top women’s rugby teams in action for nine internationals over the next three years is really exciting. It will be hugely beneficial for both teams as they prepare for the Women’s Rugby World Cup."
The confirmation of the Black Ferns programme creates certainty for New Zealand’s aspiring and recognised international players, a pathway for coaches and the NZRU to prepare the team for the next World Cup, and a base on which to build the women’s game and fan base with a view to participation in the 2016 Olympic Games Sevens tournament in Rio.
“We have not only achieved a regular programme against quality opposition but we have also been able to create a fantastic touring opportunity for these teams funded in large part by the RFU which demonstrates the respect that is held for our world champions.”
Hansen added that he was thrilled with the prospect of a three year schedule of Test matches against traditional arch rivals England.
“We’re incredibly proud to have taken out the Women’s RWC in four consecutive tournaments and a three-year programme definitely strengthens the planning for our next RWC campaign.
“We have some very strong and talented women out there and the unavailability of some of our 2010 Black Ferns means there will be an opportunity for new players to put themselves into the frame for selection. These international fixtures always provide an added incentive for them to excel in their sport.
“It’s great to have John Kyle with us this year - he is a familiar face to many of the players. John has shown great loyalty to the women’s game, having been Otago Women’s assistant coach in 2006, then moving into the head coach role until this year, and he’ll be a huge asset to our campaign this year."
England and New Zealand will play their first test on November 26th with the second and third tests on November 29th and December 3rd. All venues and kick off times will be confirmed in due course.