Black Ferns 50
The Black Ferns new era has begun with a bang.
Leading into the fixture, new coach Allan Bunting said he wanted his team to play attacking football, and the Black Ferns obliged.
There were areas to work on; handling errors were a big issue early, while at times players didn’t appear to be on the same page, but for their first performance with a new-look team, it was a very promising start.
Fullback Renee Holmes was terrific in inserting herself into the line on attack to create an overlap, while second-five Sylvia Brunt was electric with ball in hand as she bagged a first-half double.
Co-captain Kennedy Simon, who missed most of the 2022 campaign due to injury, made up for lost time on both ends. The openside led by example on defence, carried with conviction and often got her arm free for an offload.
But impressive as the Black Ferns attack was, it was a performance set up by their suffocating defence.
A side who struggled early in games last year, it looked like this new incarnation of the team was set to have similar issues. The Black Ferns were guilty of trying to do too much too early with ball in hand, and handling errors crippled every attack they tried to launch in the opening moments.
That allowed the Wallaroos to attack, and for the first five minutes they looked good. But the Black Ferns forwards set the tone, chasing down ball carriers, making important tackles and dominating at the breakdown.
The Wallaroos had some good opportunities in the early exchanges, but the Black Ferns defence would not be beaten.
That saw the confidence grow in the New Zealand side, and when tighthead prop Tanya Kalounivale scored the game’s opening try off a lovely set play from an attacking lineout, the Black Ferns attack lifted.
Playing from in front, they launched high-tempo attacks and moved the ball across the backline to create all sorts of problems for the Wallaroos defence.
Brunt was next to score, flashing some swift footwork to beat a couple of defenders from close range, and she was in again soon after on the back of more quality work at the breakdown from her forwards.
Even when the Wallaroos forced an attacking 5m scrum from a pinpoint Carys Dallinger kick that Holmes had to take back into her own in-goal, the fire in the Australians’ attack was stamped out almost as quickly as it ignited.
Winger Mererangi Paul pushed the margin out further, scoring her first Black Ferns try with a less than convincing put down, finishing off a slick passing move ignited by Ruahei Demant with a chip and chase try. Three minutes into the second half she had a second, cashing in on the Wallaroos coughing up possession almost immediately after the restart.
The Wallaroos had their chances in the second half, but again, as soon as they got near the 22, the Black Ferns defence swarmed and either forced an error or got the turnover at the breakdown.
And while there were a couple of Black Ferns opportunities that went begging through handling errors, tries to Bremner sisters Chelsea and Alana and debuting halfback Iritana Hohaia pushed the scoreline to 50.
Black Ferns 50 (Mererangi Paul 2, Sylvia Brunt 2, Tanya Kalounivale, Chelsea Bremner, Alana Bremner, Iritana Hohaia tries; Renee Holmes 4 cons, Tenika Willison con)