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Black Ferns v Wallaroos: Test won up front, patience needed with Wallaroos

By Finn Morton
Michaela Leonard of Australia walks out ahead of the 2024 Pacific Four Series Round 4 & 2024 O'Reilly Cup 1st Test match between New Zealand Black Ferns and Australia Wallaroos at North Harbour Stadium on May 25, 2024 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Black Ferns will hang onto the prestigious Laurie O’Reilly Cup for another year after recording an utterly dominant 67-19 win over traditional rivals the Wallaroos at Albany’s North Harbour Stadium.

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New Zealand scored their first through backrower Kaipo Olsen-Baker within the first five minutes, and while the Aussies hit back through Arabella McKenzie soon after, the hosts took control with a stunning point-scoring blitz.

Olsen-Baker scored the first of seven first-half tries as the Black Ferns came incredibly close to putting 50 on the visitors before the half was even done. That had all but decided the Pacific Four Series clash before the start of the second term.

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It’s another memorable night on home soil for reigning Rugby World Cup winners. While they didn’t win the competition, they showed plenty of character, heart and intent to bounce back from last week’s defeat to Canada in style.

Match Summary

0
Penalty Goals
0
11
Tries
3
6
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
158
Carries
108
21
Line Breaks
10
11
Turnovers Lost
21
12
Turnovers Won
9

Here are some takeaways.

In case you needed reminding, Test matches are won up front

It’s an old rugby cliché that any fan has no doubt heard time and time again: ‘Test matches are won up front.’ It’s a line that seems to be repeated like clockwork year after year, or at least the sentiment of that message is often shared.

Once again, in case you needed reminding, the Black Ferns showed why that continues to ring true in the modern game. But simply, if any team is going backwards in their repeated efforts or at the set-piece, then they might as well go climb Everest.

The challenge becomes much more difficult.

About two minutes into the Test, the Black Ferns were awarded an advantage on the back of a dominant scrum. They used that advantage by deciding to pack down for another scrum, and they would’ve likely won another penalty if they hadn’t scored.

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No. 8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker broke off the back before crashing over for the score.

Advantage New Zealand. Credit to the forwards for that one.

The Black Ferns won a lineout against the throw in the 10th minute and also dominated another Australian scrum about eight minutes later. Those are just a couple of moments to speak of, with the Kiwis also dominating the collision battle for the most part.

Three different forwards scored during the first half. The Black Ferns played freely on the back of their dominance up front and it was nice to see some of those players wearing numbers one through eight score on the back of that.

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The Black Ferns had won the Test by half-time

It was quite the sight to see thousands cheering at North Harbour Stadium on Friday as they frantically waved Black Ferns flags with passion. The New Zealand rugby public was entertained as their rugby heroes put on a cricket score.

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Backrower Kaipo Olsen-Baker scored the opener just four minutes into the contest, and while the Aussies hit back through Arabella McKenzie soon after, it was all one-way traffic from there.

Inside centre Sylvia Brunt danced through the Wallaroos’ defence to hand the hosts the lead once again, and then winger Mererangi Paul helped the Black Ferns surge into a commanding position with a rapid double.

But that was just the start, really.

Flanker Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, hooker Georgia Ponsonby and left winger Katelyn Vaha’akolo all got on the scoresheet as the New Zealanders raced out to an utterly dominant 45-7 lead with five minutes still to play before the half-time break.

Their dominance was unwavering. They were relentless in their pursuit to put on a show in front of a fantastic crowd at the Albany venue, and the Black Ferns were rewarded time and time again as cricket-esque rugby score was brought up on the scoreboard.

Fans wearing black clapped and cheered as the Kiwi women ran up the tunnel and into the changerooms at half-time Knowing that a simply unfathomable second-half collapse was needed for Australia to win, supporters made sure to celebrate the impending win early.

Australian rugby fans must be patient with Wallaroos

Another loss, and that can be easy to dwell on as sporting fans from the outside looking in.

Following defeats to eventual Pacific Four Series champions Canada in Sydney and a loss to the United States of America in Melbourne, the Aussies prepared themselves for an almighty challenge across the ditch.

But there will be no WXV1 for them this year after a Laurie O’Reilly Cup clash which wasn’t even close in the end. New Zealand were good, very good, and that’s why they’ll likely contest for Rugby World Cup glory in England next year.

But pump the breaks and take a seat. Patience rugby fans, patience is the key.

Sport is often spoken about as a results-driven industry, and of course that’s true to a point, but the Wallaroos are on a journey and they need to be given time. Next year’s World Cup is the end goal as captain Michaela Leonard hinted at this week.

“We knew this wasn’t gonna be a fix overnight and that things take time but we’re coming out with a really good attitude,” Leonard said.

“We’ve got nothing to lose,” she added. “It’s an opportunity for us to come there and play the way that we know we can.”

The Wallaroos started the Test on the backfoot. New Zealand dominated up front and their rivals from across the Tasman Sea didn’t really have an answer right away.

But to their credit, the women in gold fought their way back into it. Arabella McKenzie scored a try against the run of play, and the visitors began to hold their own at the collision battle. It was probably the set-piece that let them down the most early.

But from the midway point of the first half, it looked entirely like New Zealand’s afternoon – although the Aussies never gave up as they continued to chip away. It was actually a relatively close game during the second half.

With coach Jo Yapp leading the way, this is a team that has shown enough in the Pacific Four Series. Michaela Leonard, Siokapesi Plau, Piper Duck, Arabella McKenzie and Georgina Friedrichs are among those who can take this team to the next level. They’ve shown that.

But the Wallaroos need time. So, in case you need a reminder, patience rugby fans. The results will come for the Wallaroos.

Related

Renee Holmes is back and the Black Ferns are much better for it

You don’t start a Rugby World Cup Final in front of a sold-out crowd at Eden Park if you’re not an incredibly talented, gifted and skilful player. Renee Holmes is one of the best players in New Zealand which is what’s made her absence this year such a talking point.

Holmes missed the Pacific Four Series opener against the USA as well as last week’s defeat to Canada in Christchurch. But, after being named to return against the Aussies, Holmes didn’t skip a beat in a sensational comeback performance.

Named to start at fullback, Holmes was also handed the familiar goal-kicking duties. The 24-year-old slotted a sixth-minute conversion in what would’ve been a confidence-building conversion but took things to an all-new level soon after.

Holmes put on a dominant textbook tackle around her own 22-metre area which saw the Aussies knock the ball on. The Black Ferns went up the other end and reaped the rewards in attack, and the fullback had a big part in that as well.

After putting a kick through, Holmes charged after the ball which led to a should-to-shoulder chase for the ball. Neither Holmes nor the Wallaroos player gathered the ball. Instead, wing Mererangi Paul picked up the ball and walked in for the score.

That still counts as a try assist.

But what was arguably most impressive was Holmes’ ferocity in defence. There was almost venom in the way the playmaker put opposition players on their backs. It’s an eye-catching approach to the art of rugby union in which Holmes clearly prides herself on.

With 20-year-old Hannah King starting at first five, Holmes also helped take the pressure off as another reliable playmaking option.

So, in summary, Renee Holmes was back with a bang at North Harbour Stadium and the Black Ferns were certainly better for it.

Arabella McKenzie a shining light for Wallaroos

Experienced flyhalf Arabella McKenzie was a shining light for the Wallaroos during their heavy loss to the Black Ferns. McKenzie showcased individual brilliance on two different occasions to score for the visitors.

After Australia went behind 7-nil early, McKenzie spotted a gap between two New Zealand forwards and made the most of it. The playmaker sliced through the Black Ferns’ defensive wall before running in untouched for the try.

McKenzie converted that effort, as well.

Later, about midway through the second 40, fans might’ve felt a sense of déjà vu as McKenzie once again showed fast feet and quick thinking to get the better of some defenders with the try line within sight.

The Aussie placed the ball down, albeit only just, to add another five points to the Wallaroos score. It wasn’t the visitor’s day at North Harbour Stadium, but players like Arabella McKenzie provide a glimpse into a positive future for the Wallaroos.

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Comments

6 Comments
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Brian 26 days ago

BFs need to play for 80 minutes to have any chance of beating Canada , France and especially England. 24-12 in the second half doesn’t sound impressive when bodies are tiring and the bench comes on.

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Flankly 15 hours ago
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