After travelling more than 9,500 miles from Brisbane to Ottawa, Australia and New Zealand picked up impressive victories over the USA and Canada respectively in the third round of the World Rugby Pacific Four Series in a Saturday double-header at TD Place Stadium.
It was a tale of two halves for the Wallaroos, with their forwards overpowering their Women's Eagles counterparts to score the four first-half tries to secure the try bonus point, while the backs got the job done in the second half, touching down for another five tries to secure their first win of the Pacific Four Series. It was a crucial victory for Australia with the hopes of qualifying for WXV 1 in October finishing in the top three after next Friday’s final round.
The defending Pacific Four Series champions New Zealand, who qualified for WXV 1 with victory, played the role of spoilers on an historic night for Canadian rugby as more than 10,000 fans attended for the largest ever crowd in Canadian rugby history for a women’s test match.
CANADA 21-52 NEW ZEALAND
It was a dream start for the visitors as hooker Luka Connor touched down in the opening two minutes to silence the fervent and record-breaking crowd in the nation's capital. After the conversion by Renee Holmes, the Black Ferns enjoyed an early 7-0 lead.
Just moments later, the home fans thought they could celebrate their first try of the match when flanker Fabiola Forteza made an exciting 30-metre line-break, however, Holmes and winger Katelyn Vahaakolo converged on Forteza to hold her up over the try-line to prevent the score.
World Rugby Women's 15s Player of the Year 2022 Ruahei Demant went through Canada’s defence untouched to score her side’s second try under the posts in the 14th minute after sustained pressure inside Canada’s 22.
Winger Mererangi Paul added the third try four minutes later after a brilliant chip kick in the midfield by Demant was gathered by Mastercard Player of the Match Amy du Plessis, and spun through the hands to set up the try and outpace the final defender.
New Zealand controlled 70 per cent of the possession in the opening 20 minutes, taking a 21-0 lead into the first water break. However, the momentum would shift in favour of Canada before the half-time whistle.
Captain Sophie de Goede took a quick tap from a penalty deep inside New Zealand territory, and proceeded to carry four defenders over the whitewash to score her team’s opening try. The number eight added the extra two points to bring the score to 21-7.
Forteza would not be denied a second time before the half-time whistle to score Canada’s second try after a brilliant 40-metre driving maul from the Canadian forwards. Tyson Beukeboom broke free and found her team-mate on the inside before she scampered the last metres to score. After another conversion from De Goede, the score at half-time was 21-14 to New Zealand.
The visitors opened the second half with their bonus-point try by outside-centre Du Plessis after a brilliant snipe at the breakdown by scrum-half Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu. The home side, however, would respond through Canada’s third try by loosehead prop Olivia DeMerchant after nearly a dozen pick-and-go attempts on the Black Ferns’ try-line.
At many points throughout the match, the Canadian backline struggled to contain their opponent's firepower when kicking away possession and Paul capitalised on an errant kick in the 57th minute to dot down her second try of the match as the visitors continued to pull away after every Canadian score.
In the final 20 minutes of the match the Black Ferns pulled away with further tries from Holmes, Du Plessis and one from replacement winger Kelsey Teneti to secure the 52-21 win to remain undefeated in the Pacific Four Series.
Black Ferns co-captain Kennedy Simon said: “We’re just trying to be innovative. It’s an incredible group of women and we’re just trying to build each week. We knew Canada was going to be a class outfit, especially with a record crowd which is not only incredible for Canadian rugby but women’s rugby as well."
Despite the loss, Canadian captain De Goede was pleased with her team’s performance in a record night: “I’m really proud of the way that we fought back, but frustrated that we had to fight back. We put ourselves in some sticky situations and we’ve had some learnings, but what an incredible day for Canadian rugby regardless of the scoreline. It means the world to us. Rugby in Canada is as strong as it’s ever been and we’re just really glad to be a part of it and we’re really grateful for the communities we’re a part of.”
AUSTRALIA 58-17 USA
Australia bounced back with an impressive 58-17 victory over USA just one week after opening their World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 with a 50-0 loss to New Zealand in Brisbane.
With both sides losing their respective openers, Saturday's encounter added equal importance in the race to qualify for WXV 1. The loser would have to win their final match of the tournament – Australia against Canada and the USA against New Zealand on 14 July – to have any hope of securing their ticket to New Zealand in October.
The Women's Eagles had won the previous meeting 16-14 in last year's competition and led the all-time series five to one heading into Saturday’s action at TD Place Stadium in Canada’s capital. Despite a sizeable turnout from fans south of the border to cheer on the USA, the Wallaroos showed their class in the victory.
Number eight Grace Hamilton opened the scoring for Australia after sustained pressure from the forward pack in the 14th minute. The driving maul set the tone for their dominance the rest of the opening half.
Tight-head prop and Mastercard Player of the Match Eva Karpani followed suit just six minutes later off of another driving maul, giving her side a dominant 12-0 lead heading into the first much-needed water break.
The USA would, however, get one back in their third visit to their opposition's 22. Evi Ashenbrucker used her long reach to stretch over and score her team’s first try after an impressively powerful drive through three defenders. Canadian referee Julianne Zussman checked with the Television Match Official, who awarded Ashenbrucker the try.
The Wallaroos made short work of USA’s seven-point deficit just four minutes later by scoring a sensational team try finished off by Karpani under the posts for her first-half brace. Coach Jay Tregonning’s forwards weren’t done yet in the opening half as they proceeded to touch down one more time from a driving maul through hooker Adiana Talakai who dove over in the 37th minute.
Inside-centre Cecilia Smith, who was good for 11 points in the victory, slotted a further penalty on the stroke of half-time to give the Australians a 27-5 lead at the break.
With the bonus point in the bag, Australia picked up right where they left off after the break when Maya Stewart dotted down the first of her hat-trick of tries on the day. Smith made the original line-break and offloaded to Talakai who then found Georgina Friedrichs as the Wallaroos went through the hands to score their fifth try of the match.
However, USA refused to cave. Winger Jennine Detiveaux responded with two impressive tries of her own in the 51st and 74th minutes, both highlighted by a world-class fend on the final defender before diving over.
Australia’s backline continued their second-half onslaught as Ivania Wong and Friedrichs each scored in the final half hour, while Stewart added two final tries in the victory.
Women's Eagles captain Kate Zackary said after the loss: “One of our mottos is one per cent better every day and you can only do that by getting a few minutes on the pitch. The training pitch is really important but the game is where it all comes to life and where you have some hard moments but also the biggest growing moments, so that’s what we’re looking on to now.”
Australia captain Michaela Leonard added: “The messaging before the game was that we knew we didn’t put the performance out there [against New Zealand] and we didn’t perform the skills and execution that we know that we can. Turning around from a 50-nil loss isn’t easy, but I think that was true Australian grit.
“We know that Canada is going to come out with a physical game and we also know they’re really strong in set piece so that’ll be a focus for us and a new challenge to take on next week.”
The final round of the World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2023 kicks off Friday, 14 July at 16:00 local time (GMT-4) with New Zealand facing USA before Canada take on Australia at 19:00 at TD Place Stadium.
Friday's matches will be available to stream via the World Rugby website where a local broadcast deal is not in place.