After almost seven months on the sidelines, the new-look Black Ferns have delivered a reminder of their world champion pedigree with a 50-0 decimation of Australia in the opening match of the Pacific Four and Laurie O’Reilly Cup series in Brisbane.
Playing their first test since November’s World Cup final triumph, the NZ women were a class above the Wallaroos, running in eight tries to extend their flawless record against their trans-Tasman neighbours and begin life under new coach Allan Bunting in impressive fashion.
Playing in front of a packed crowd at Brisbane’s Dolphins Stadium, the hosts had no answer for the pace and power of the New Zealanders, outmatched in all facets of the game as the gap between the two nations seems only to widen.
The result means the Laurie O’Reilly – contested annually between the two teams – remains in New Zealand, where it’s been gathering dust since its inception in 1994.
There were signs of rust at times, in a lack of cohesion and basic handling inaccuracy. But nothing more than you’d expect from a side comprised almost a third of debutants and refining their style under new coaching direction.
There was no shortage of standouts for the Ferns, highlighted by the brilliance of teenage midfielder Sylvia Brunt. The youngest member of the squad at 19 years old, Brunt was irresistible in attack, slicing the Australian defence apart like a Japanese knife in a two-try performance that earned her player-of-the-match honours.
Co-captain Ruahei Demant was typically prominent, spearheading the Black Ferns’ trademark brand of expansive, offload-heavy rugby that will clearly remain their edict under Bunting and co.
Wing Mererangi Paul showed her promise by celebrating her debut with a brace of tries, while No. 8 Liana Mikaele-Tu’u led the way in a bruising Black Ferns defensive display that suffocated the life out of the Australian attack, which barely threatened the NZ line all night.
Both sides took their time settling into the match, with the Black Ferns showing the rust of their long layoff with some uncharacteristic mistakes that saw them pinned in their own half for an extended opening spell.
Eventually they got on the front foot and into opposition territory on the back of some thunderous defence, cashing in immediately on the back of a slick lineout move that set prop Tanya Kalounivale on a bulldozing 15m run to the chalk, sending defenders tumbling as she crashed over for the game’s first try.
The try clicked the Black Ferns into gear, with the outstanding Brunt breaking out a lethal right foot step to burrow over from close range and double New Zealand’s advantage to 14-0.
The midfielder was over again 10 minutes later with almost a carbon copy of her first, jinking through the attention of two tacklers and showing great strength to ground the ball under the crossbar.
The Black Ferns struck again immediately, as wing Paul marked her debut with a brilliant individual effort to chip over the defensive line, beat the cover defence to the ball and – just – get enough downward pressure to claim the try and send her side into halftime with an intimidating 26-0 lead.
The Kiwis kept the foot on the pedal to start the second half, with Liana Mikaele-Tu’u burst off the back of the scrum, setting up Paul to claim her second try after less than two minutes.
Bunting and his staff had the luxury of rolling the substitutes early, eager to get a good look at their new squad on the test stage.
Chelsea Bremner was the next to cross, driving over the chalk with defenders on her back to wrestle the ball down.
The final quarter was a less structured affair but the NZ defence continued to make life miserable for the Australians, who couldn’t cash on the stiff breeze at their backs.
But there was time for two final nails, as Alana Bremner cut back on a super running line to brush off a slew of defenders and score, before Amy DuPlessis’ incisive run delivered a try for debutant Iritana Hohaia.
The Black Ferns now travel to Ottawa to face hosts Canada (July 9) and the United States (july 15).
Black Ferns 50 (Brunt 2, Paul 2, Kalounivale, C. Bremner, A. Bremner, Hohaia tries; Holmes 4, Willison con) Australia 0