The Black Ferns got a taste of their own medicine in Wellington last night.
After beating France by one point in last year’s World Cup semifinal almost a year ago, the Europeans said ‘right back at you’ as they beat New Zealand 18-17 in their WXV 1 opening match.
Commending the world No. 3 on their “classy” performance in the capital, Kiwi co-captain Kennedy Simon also said her team were their “own worst enemies”.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort,” Simon said.
“We just need to make sure that we capitalise on those little opportunities that we get.”
Since being crowned world champions in November last year, the Ferns hadn’t played another top-three-ranked nation so meeting the French in this inaugural series was always going to be a test of how they’d grown and developed over the last 11 months with a new head coach.
From kick-off, France did a lot of tackling as the Black Ferns dictated the pace, but they also affected the breakdown and won turnovers, with three in the opening quarter of the game.
Building on that platform, the French held a 15-7 lead at halftime and extended that with another penalty early in the second stanza – though that was cancelled out about 10 minutes later.
The World Cup winning wāhine were not helped by a red card to reserve prop Chryss Viliko, who was marched in the 64th minute for an ugly play where she took out an upright French player at the side of the breakdown at speed.
Despite a staunch fightback from the world No. 2, the French were able to hold on to end the match on top, ironically by a single point.
France scored two, essentially, solo tries. Left winger Emilie Boulard, who impressed throughout the contest - opened the scoring by out-running Kiwi fullback Renee Holmes. The French right-winger Cyrielle Banet also danced down the sideline toward the end of the first half.
Black Ferns coach Allan Bunting said the long-range tries they conceded hurt them.
“I know our defence coach is a little bit disappointed with that,” Bunting said. “I know there’s a few things that we can put our energy into.”
However, Bunting quickly looked at the positives, mentioning he was impressed by the scrum and credited the forwards.
“We were working really hard on the scrum and the first half scrum was really solid.”
“[They] worked bloody hard today, you know, the amount of carries and tackles that they made today.”
Though it wasn’t Bunting’s first rodeo – coaching New Zealand through four wins against America, Canada and Australia twice earlier this year – it was his first major test with the side after taking over from Sir Wayne Smith in February.
He revealed after the game his emotions were all over the place.
“I’m invested 100per cent and really passionate.”
Bunting said even being in the coaches’ box near the top of the stadium feels like they are on the field with the team.
“It is a bit of a rollercoaster and because we just want our ladies to do well... so there are some real highs and there and some lows.
“[I’m] a little bit disappointed – we came pretty close and we had quite a few opportunities out there, but in that part of our journey, we gonna get lots of learn and grow from this.”
“It wasn’t a lack of trying – it’s probably just a key little learning,” Bunting said.
Simon echoed her superior’s words saying her side would re-group ahead of match two - against Wales in Dunedin next Saturday.
“I think we’re just going to grow from this.
“I’m really proud of the effort the girls did put on out there [and] I think [the loss] will only make us stronger.”
Bonnie Jansen is a Multimedia Journalist in the NZME Sports team. She’s a keen footballer and has worked with the Alternative Commentary Collective before joining the Te Rito cadetship scheme.