At Tauranga Domain, Tauranga: Black Ferns 23 (Ayesha Leti-I’iga 2, Alana Bremner, Kaipo Olsen Baker try, Kendra Cocksedge pen) Australia 10 (Liz Patu tries; Lori Cramer trick, pen). HT: 5-10.
The Black Ferns had to dig deep to start Wayne Smith’s era on the right note and fought back to defeat the Wallaroos 23-10 in terrible, wet weather at the Tauranga Domain on Monday.
Kendra Cocksedge celebrated to become the most-capped Black Fern, in her 58th Test, with a steady game at half-defense to temper the nerves of an inexperienced Black Ferns side who were really tested by Australia.
That Pacific Series opening was in the balance in the final quarter, but Cocksedge’s sting at the hour was finally enough for a decisive victory and her lobbed pass for the second attempt by bright wing Ayesha Leti-I’iga was a sweetener on the hoo .
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After a rocky six months in which Former coach Glenn Moore has resigned amid the aftermath of a damn cultural reviewwas a relief for the Black Ferns to be playing again.
The four record defeats against England and France during last year’s north tour were crude and brutal.
The conditions could hardly have been worse for their first test at home in almost three years and Australia, for long periods of time, played the smarter game in the rain and capitalized on several mistakes by Black Ferns.
The gloomy skies soared but Australia, who suffered a shock defeat to Japan in May, missed their first win over the Black Ferns in their 20th meeting.
Four months before the Rugby World Cup opener against the Wallaroos at Eden Park, reigning world champion Kiwi simply had to win and an improved second half ensured it, however ugly.
Smith said he wanted the Black Ferns to play with style, but the appalling conditions barely allowed it.
An early cross-country kick towards Ruby Tui on the right side outlined their desire to attack, despite the wet weather, although they struggled to get the ball in and Australia were encamped in their half for the opening 30 minutes.
The Wallaroos were focused on a more pragmatic approach and encouraged emotions before starting by approaching the Black Ferns’ hack.
They also had a point to prove after the absence of tests during the Covid-19 pandemic and grew in faith with the initial attempt of hooker Liz Patu, improving their lead with the punch of Lori Cramer.
Quick taps and a willingness to keep the ball alive as the rain continued to pour were, later, rewarded when Cocksedge sharply fed Leti-I’igan to win and lift the spirits of a soaking, frustrated home crowd.
But it was not an easy approach to maintain.
The sky was open, the rain was incessant, and the Wallaroos had the upper hand.
The big moment
Two tries after halftime for loose forward Alana Bremner and a trademark No 8 finish for debutant Kaipo Olsen-Baker turned a difficult game on its head. Lock Maiakawanakaulani Roos’s excellent break led to a chance to take the lead with 28 minutes played, but Black Ferns’s cross from the left flank was fumbled in front of the goal and easily dealt with by the opposition.
Match rating: 4/10
Terrible, constant rain sometimes made it impossible to play rugby, although the Black Ferns have maintained an extensive style with which new head coach Smith wants them to persist.
The big picture
The Black Ferns host Canada in Auckland on Sunday in what was expected to be the most competitive match before the series began.
Canada convinced 36-5 winners against the United States in Monday’s series opener in Tauranga. They will be hard to beat.
Leti-I’iga lifted the crowd with every touch of the ball and looked dangerous with every carry, coming in from the left side. Olsen-Baker, who was the best of the seven Test debutants, capped a solid debut with a brilliant try and rookie center Kelsey Teneti looks like a star of the future. Player Hazel Tubic made a big impact from the bench.