Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns poised for more line-up experimentation against Scotland

Expect another host of changes to the Black Ferns team to face Scotland in their final Rugby World Cup pool match at Whangārei on Saturday.

After using two almost entirely different line-ups in their opening two pool matches, assistant coach Wes Clarke believes he and his fellow selectors have almost - but not quite - settled on their best XV.

Only three players from the starting line-up against Australia retained their spots against Wales last weekend, although two more switched positions, as the Ferns continued to assess their squad, before the knockout stages.

"I think it's getting clearer and clearer," said Clarke. "We're playing around with combinations now, not so much giving everyone a chance anymore.

"If you look carefully, you'll see those combinations emerging, so it's definitely getting clearer for us."

Clarke adds the final pool match will be that last-chance saloon for those who haven't had a chance to press their case for the business end of the competition, with the squad announcement expected on Thursday morning.

The Black Ferns bolted to a big win over Wales.
The Black Ferns bolted to a big win over Wales. Photo credit: Photosport

Head coach Wayne Smith and his staff have cut a fine balancing act between developing onfield chemistry and experimenting with their line-up, a luxury afforded by relatively weak opposition.

"We're probably looking at close to what our team will be [against Scotland], but ultimately, we take things game by game and the old saying 'horses for courses', I suppose. We look at the opposition and look at what might work against them as well. 

"I'm not sure if the media's ever going to be happy with who we pick, to be honest," he laughed.

Despite the lopsided scorelines, the Black Ferns' deficiencies through their opening games have been apparent and well documented among fans and coaches alike.

Along with improvements sought up front and with their discipline, Clarke admits he wants to see the biggest improvement in their form off the blocks.

The New Zealanders trailed at halftime against the Aussies, before blowing them off Eden Park in the second half. They also took considerable time to find their rhythm against Wales, eventually streaking clear.

"The last couple of games, we've worked ourselves into the games really well and learned from what the opposition are showing us, but it'd be good to get a nice start," said Clarke.

The Scots pushed the Wallaroos to the limit in a 14-12 defeat last weekend and boast a robust forward pack that will provide another litmus test of how much the Black Ferns' shaky pack has improved.

"I think all the northern teams are good at the rolling maul," Clarke noted. "We've talked about the  penalties, we've got to make sure there's not too many of those to defend, because they are so good at it.

"There's also some opportunities around their kicking game, but I don't want to say too much more."

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