Rugby: Black Ferns not at their best in scrappy win over Australia

Joanah Ngan-Woo of the Black Ferns scores a try. Photo / Getty

Black Ferns 22
Australia 14

With six weeks to go before they kick off the Rugby World Cup, the Black Ferns’ battling victory over Australia confirmed there’s still work to be done.

Wayne Smith’s side remained unbeaten during his tenure by beating the Wallaroos for the second straight week, with this performance and result far less convincing than the first.

The coach warned that Australia were better than the 52-5 scoreline in Christchurch had indicated, and that proved true in today’s rematch at the Adelaide Oval.

“We knew that the Aussies were going to scrap,” co-captain Ruahei Demant told Stan Sport. “Playing at home and playing in front of their families, we knew that they were going to bring a different energy.

“They brought the physicality and we were chasing them at the start of the game. It took us a long time to try and get into a groove, and when we did they did really well to stop our momentum.”

Disrupted around the ruck in particular, Smith’s much-changed side were short of their dynamic best, lacking fluidity and displaying little sign of the enterprising rugby he wanted to instil.

New Zealand never seriously looked like losing to Australia for the first time in 22 tests, with the hosts’ second try coming from the final play of the game. The Black Ferns’ set piece was again dominant and, after falling behind early, they controlled possession and field position throughout the match.

But Smith will want improvements before the sides meet again in the opening fixture of the World Cup at Eden Park – and he may be sweating on the fitness of a couple key players before he names his squad for that tournament.

Co-captain Kennedy Simon was helped off midway through the first half and the No 8 was seen on crutches after the match, while Chelsea Semple’s afternoon ended early after she appeared to be knocked out in a nasty head clash.

Those injuries weren’t the only blemishes in a first half that would have left Australia believing a historic upset was possible.

After the Wallaroos escaped an initial attempt by their opponents to maul their way ahead, they seized the early initiative and attacked with fluidity to stretch the Ferns but blow a try in the corner.

Australia weren’t denied for long, though, with a carbon-copy move again allowing space for debutant Bienne Terita to cross, the wing this time holding on to the ball.

Adding insult to what appeared a painful injury, Semple was sin binned for a head clash in the build up to the try, with the dazed midfielder having already headed for the sidelines.

Once restored to their full complement, the Black Ferns scored their first try through more conventional means than their coach might have desired, eschewing attacking freedom in favor of phase play.

The patient strategy found reward as Luka Connor burrowed across after a succession of snipes around the fringes, giving the visitors their first lead.

When Atasi Lafai was shown yellow after Australia were guilty of repeated offsides, the Black Ferns had a golden chance to build on that advantage before the break.

But despite enjoying a wealth of possession near the opposition line, New Zealand couldn’t find a way through, as the Wallaroos’ defensive physicality came to the fore.

That general pattern continued in the second spell, spent largely in Australian territory. The visitors ‘set-piece command and the hosts’ ill-discipline created plenty of extra opportunities and, eventually, a couple more tries.

Prop Santo Taumata – having come off the bench for her debut – played a big part in the first, completing a strong carry that outstanding lock Joanah Ngan-Woo capitalized on. And the second came in similar style as Kendra Reynolds showed her strength to cross after her side di lei had again set up camp on the Australian line.

Black Ferns 22 (Luka Connor, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Kendra Reynolds tries; Ruahei Demant 2 cons, pen)
Australia 14 (Bienne Terita 2 tries; Arabella McKenzie 2 cons)
Halftime: 10-7