Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns starting spots still up for grabs with tournament opener on horizon

Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith admits starting spots are still up for grabs, with the Rugby World Cup just a fortnight away.

New Zealand will play Japan at Eden Park on Sunday in their final hitout before beginning their title defence against Australia on October 8.

While the 32-strong squad for the tournament is very much settled, Smith's preferred lineup is still just as much a mystery, even to him.

Smith made it clear what he's looking to get out of the match against Japan, and hopes it will help settle his selection decisions.

"Just improvement," he said. "We've got to start getting some continuity with selection. 

"We changed, I think eight players from the game in Adelaide, we tried some different plays, probably didn't quite come off, the coach's fault, not the girls' fault.

"I'm hoping that we've made some improvement on that, but we're not going to win the tournament this week, we've got time. 

"We've got a pretty good plan in place and we want to be hitting our peak at the right time.

"The squad's strong - I'd be lying if I said we knew our starting lineup, I don't think we do, so these games are important.

"We've given a lot of ladies opportunities over the last three months. There will still be some more opportunities for them, but probably we'll have to get a better feel for what the core of our team will be.

"But around the fringes, we'll still be able to make some changes. That's the key, by the time we get towards the end of the round-robin, we really know what it looks like, who it is."

Smith believes Japan will serve as ideal preparation for their World Cup opener, with their opponents stunning Australia in May.

"It's a great opportunity for us to have a look at some of the ladies that have come in, they've had pretty good preparation the last few days," he said.

"We need to keep adding to our game. We wanted to play James because they're quick, have a really good defence, they're physical, they beat Australia earlier in the year.

"They're going to be a really good test, and it's just another rung on the ladder for us to try and get better.

"Japan plays a really fast brand of rugby, they will really test our defence. They're defence is outstanding, they spread really quickly and they're good tacklers.

"It is a chance for us to play against another top team…and they look really good, so it will be a really big test for us."

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