Stylish Black Ferns finish World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2024 with statement win

New Zealand scored 11 tries, including a spectacular treble in four first-half minutes, en route to a comfortable 67-19 win over Australia to round off the Pacific Four Series 2024 in emphatic fashion and send USA to Women's Rugby World Cup 2025.

New Zealand lifted the O'Reilly Cup to end their World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2024 campaign on a positive note, with a 67-19 victory over a determined Australia in Auckland to make up for last week's surprise loss to Canada.

The Pacific Four Series title may not have been in play, but there was more than pride at stake at North Harbour Stadium. A first-ever win for Australia in 26 meetings would guarantee a place in the WXV1 in Canada later this year and at Women's Rugby World Cup 2025.

But the Black Ferns had other ideas. It was soon evident that they had tightened up their discipline and handling after the previous weekend’s loss against Canada, and were clinical whenever they got into Australia’s red zone in the first 40. 

Player of the match Kaipo Olsen-Baker had opened the scoring in the fifth minute, taking defenders with her as she charged powerfully off the back of a 5m scrum. It looked to set the game plan for the Black Ferns with their forwards on the front foot.

In the loose, however, Australia were up for the early challenge. Four minutes later, after their big ball carriers had made metres and caused problems, fly-half Arabella McKenzie ghosted through to level the scores. 

But an error from the Wallaroos 10 in the 12th minute, after New Zealand’s forwards were held up over the line after keeping it tight when they could, perhaps, have gone wide, opened the doors to the hosts. 

Sylvia Brunt was the first to benefit, cutting back inside after her pack had got to within a metre of the line.

Then Mererangi Paul scored two in two minutes en route to her second hat-trick in three outings. She gathered the loose ball to dot down from Renee Holmes’ kick ahead, before finding herself in acres of space after Olsen-Baker had ripped the ball out of Australian hands as they tried to force their way from their line.

Australia probed in the loose, and stretched the Black Ferns’ defence more than once. But they were repeatedly caught out at the breakdown – and coach Jo Yapp would have been disappointed with some of the defending from her side in the first half, as they missed 29 of 99 tackles. It was one-way traffic in the physical battle.

New Zealand turned up the spectacular shortly after the half-hour. A loose trio special kicked it off, with Liana Mikaele-Tu’u running under the posts after being on hand to pick up an offload from Olsen-Baker, who in turn had in turn been just where a good backrow should be when captain Kennedy Simon broke clear.

Two minutes later, Georgia Ponsonby charged clear to finish off a sweeping score that got the Auckland crowd going. Brunt made many a metre, offloaded to Amy du Plessis, who flicked a pass out of the tackle to the hooker.

Australia were chasing shadows – and winger Katelyn Vahaakolo took full advantage with a breathtaking individual try. Picking up a loose ball deep in her own half, she pushed forward, kicked over the head of McKenzie, beat two defenders to gather and raced in. 

The Black Ferns’ half-century had to wait until the second half. Four minutes in, loose-head Chryss Viliko opened her international try count off a lineout strike move.

Four minutes later, Paul had her hat-trick after a TMO check. She had plenty of work to do, after the ball had gone through the hands from a set piece, but burrowed her way through three defenders to the line.

Defiant Australia, however, weren’t going down without a fight. Their forwards had worked their way back into the game. And winger Maya Stewart’s curving line following a clinically executed strike-move off a scrum got them on the board in the second half. McKenzie would add her second just before the hour in a much-improved final 40.

But Simon scored two thoroughly deserved tries – in the 55th and 72nd minutes – to maintain the Black Ferns’ big scoreboard advantage and retain the O’Reilly Cup.

New Zealand co-captain Simon said immediately afterwards: “I think we can be proud of a lot of things we did out there.

“We need to harness this and make sure we keep building. We were able to build phases and turn them into points. From here we just need to keep doing the groundwork.”

Despite the scale of the defeat, Australia captain Michaela Leonard promised more to come from the Wallaroos, with Women's Rugby World Cup qualification still on the line. “It’s been a big learning curve so we’ve still got a long way to go,” she said. 

“We’ve shown how positive we can be when we execute well, but I think when you look at the little areas of breakdown and exit they let us down.

“There’s so much potential in this group. It’s a group of 30 incredible athletes, incredible women. We’ve shown that when we front up, and we play our defence, when we play our attack, we’re a threatening team and we can play with the best.”

And she also said that the road to England 2025 is still open. “There’s so much belief within the group. We know we’ll get there. We’ve got a lot to give and we’re confident we can get the job done.”

Last updated: May 27, 2024, 6:47:00 AM
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