Rugby: Powerful Ferns raise the bar

Dominant pack adding a new dimension to New Zealand’s speedy attack.

Huriana Manuel breaks through to score the opening try against Kazakhstan. Photo / Getty Images
Huriana Manuel breaks through to score the opening try against Kazakhstan. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand women's rugby side opened their defence of the women's Rugby World Cup with a big victory over Kazakhstan in France yesterday.

The Black Ferns cantered to a 79-5 victory in a match played in sweltering conditions that saw teams take water breaks in each half.

While it might have seemed they would play the game at speed, given the number of sevens players in the side, it was notable their pack was ominous at the set-piece and the defensive intensity never lost its punch.

It was something coach Brian Evans and the coaching team were aware of a few years ago and they trained specifically to ensure the power of the Black Ferns was increased.

"We definitely needed some power up front," Evans said. "Teams are getting bigger. It was something we noticed against England some time ago, and we felt we were, size-wise, struggling.

"Some of the more powerful players are now ready to play and have the power to go with ability."

That was obvious throughout the contest against Kazakhstan, who won the Asian Four Nations tournament in May but have failed to progress from the group stages at the last five World Cups. Their ball-handing was prominent but the forwards were also willing to crash up hard and straight, which led to numerous linebreaks and a number of their 13 tries.

Huriana Manuel, Selica Winiata, Fiao'o Fa'amausili, Kelly Brazier and Eloise Blackwell scored braces, with Shakira Baker, Aroha Savage, Aleisha Nelson and Halie Tiplady-Hurring also crossing for tries.

New Zealand go into the 12-team tournament as overwhelming favourites, having won the last four World Cups and having beaten England three times last year.

Evans said there was a buzz around the camp now that the tournament had begun.

"It's awesome to actually be doing it, to put it on the pitch and try things out," he said.

The Black Ferns have a four-day turnaround before their next match against Ireland, the 2013 Six Nations women's champions who beat the US 23-17, before wrapping up pool play against the Americans.

"Ireland are a good team and we will have a look at them," Evans said.

"We are aware that it is going to be very competitive as the World Cup continues. France, England, Ireland and even Australia are going to be tough."

Australia beat South Africa 26-3 in their opening match. England, who won the title in 1994 but have been losing finalists in the past three tournaments, also had a lop-sided result, 65-3 over Samoa, and France beat Wales 26-0.

- Herald on Sunday

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