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The Black Ferns have opened the Laurie O’Reilly Cup series with a resounding 52-5 defeat of the Australian Wallaroos at Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium.
Seven weeks out from the opening night of Rugby World Cup, this was a solid step forward for this team. Building on the promise shown in Pacific Four series in June, the Black Ferns, working off a solid set-piece all night, played up tempo, delivered eight tries, showed some nice skill with their short passing game and tight defence for a good crowd in the Garden City. They also handed debuts to prop Awhina Tangen-Wainohu and Black Ferns Sevens mainstay Tyla Nathan-Wong, both entering the fray off the bench.
The star turn was the veteran halfback Kendra Cocksedge, in just her second and possibly final Test match in her adopted city. She scored a try, slotted three from four off the tee, controlled the Black Ferns’ tempo and showcased a few nifty reverse passes to players close to the ruck.
Early ambition by the Black Ferns was not matched by their execution, with dropped balls and forward passes pockmarking some of their first quarter work.
It was captain and No 10 Ruahei Demant who opened the account, firing through a gap after a Kennedy Simon burst, which in turn came from a slick lineout. It was the first of three tries the Black Ferns scored from lineouts, a steady and reliable source of possession.
Lock Joanah Ngan-Woo scored the second off a lineout move, prop Tanya Kalounivale taking the defence to the blind and then the Wellington Pride player blasting over from short range.
Centre Amy du Plessis, who had a strong game, scored after several phases, and when Cocksedge crossed in close from a move which she started, it was 26-0 after just 31 minutes.
A three-try burst in 10 minutes during the second half showed left wing Ayesha Leti-I’iga at her very best, while Demant claimed a second from a short pass by Charmaine McMenamin. At 45-0, it looked like the 67-3 scoreline from 2016, still the Black Ferns’ biggest against their trans-Tasman foes, was under threat.
But the home side, emptying their bench, lost some shape while Australia tightened up its defence. There was time for replacement hooker Luka Connor to dive over from a lineout drive.
The last say went to Wallaroo replacement loose forward Piper Duck, who scored out wide on the end of a fine movement by the embattled visitors.
Other than Cocksedge, Black Ferns standouts were No 8 McMenamin, back from injury for her first Test since 2019, opensider Simon, who gave a yeoman shift, lock Ngan-Woo and hooker Georgia Ponsonby. In the backs, Demant was in top form, as was the irrepressible Leti-I’iga.
After some initial darts by wing Mahalia Murphy, the Wallaroos could get little going and were largely in damage control, often scrambling on defence.
Both teams will meet again next Saturday at Adelaide Oval to round out the Laurie O’Reilly Cup series.