Sevens stars named in Black Ferns as Simon and McMenamin return

Black Ferns loose forwards Kennedy Simon and Charmaine McMenamin will play their first test of the year after being named to start against Australia in Christchurch on Saturday night.

The pair are both returning from injury.

Simon will wear the captain's armband alongside first-five Ruahei Demant who led the team during the Pacific Four Series, which the Black Ferns won.

The team now plays two tests against Australia for the Laurie O'Reilly Cup, with the first match in Ōtautahi this weekend.

The Waikato loose forward was named Black Ferns Player of the Year in 2021 but missed June's series with a knee injury.

McMenamin, the Black Ferns Player of the Year in 2019, has recovered from spinal surgery to reclaim her place.

Black Ferns Sevens exponent Theresa Fitzpatrick, who was part of the 2017 World Cup winning Black Ferns, plays her first Test since 2019 and will combine with Amy du Plessis in the midfield.

Her New Zealand sevens teammate, Tyla Nathan-Wong, is one of two debutants named on the bench.

Prop Awhina Tangen-Wainohu is also in line to make her debut from the reserves.

Black Ferns head coach Wayne Smith said there was real significance in defending the O'Reilly Cup in the city where Laurie O'Reilly had such an influence on the game of rugby.

"My want to get involved with the Black Ferns started as a tribute to Laurie who was a great mate and mentor of mine; he inspired me to be a coach and I feel really fortunate to have had such a great relationship with him.

"Every Test match is special, but the significance of playing for this trophy in Christchurch this weekend is not lost on our team," said Smith.

After claiming the Pacific Four Series on home soil in June, the Black Ferns are eyeing the defence of the O'Reilly Cup as they build towards the Rugby World Cup.