England defeat Black Ferns in first Test
rfu.com and James Mortimer 25 Nov 2012 Getty Images
The win puts England 1-0 up in the three game series with the sides set to lock horns again in Aldershot on Tuesday night.
But the home side were dealt an early blow when influential full back Danielle Waterman took a knock and was forced off, replaced by the pacey Jo Watmore after eight minutes.
England looked the more dangerous of the two sides as the half progressed and the elusive Merchant was a constant thorn in the Black Ferns side.
The first points came from the boot of McLean with 28 minutes played, putting England 3-0 up. But New Zealand hit straight back, applying pressure from the restart and McLean’s attempted clearance was charged down and touched down by No. 8 Casey Robertson.
The Black Ferns extended their lead five minutes later with a penalty from inside centre Kelly Brazier, making the score 8-3 at the break.
With England needing to impose themselves early in the second half, it was New Zealand who made the statement when fly half Kendra Cocksedge picked up the ball, spotted a gap and darted through to score. The conversion was missed, making it 13-3.
McLean missed a kickable penalty soon after and with 52 minutes played England rang the changes with Fran and Alex Matthews, Sophie Hemming and Rosemarie Crowley all coming on. The replacements made an immediate impact as Alex Matthews and Heather Fisher both went close before No. 8 Sarah Hunter eventually made the pressure tell, burrowing over to score.
New Zealand were then reduced to 14 women with 60 minutes on the clock, replacement Lydia Crossman was sent into the sinbin for an infringement. Scarratt converted the resulting penalty to make it 13-11 as England looked to make the extra women count.
With England in the ascendency, getting points on the board was crucial and smart backline play eventually freed up Merchant out wide to dive over and give the home side a 16-13 lead.
New Zealand threatened to come back into the game but England held firm and are now four games unbeaten against their southern hemisphere rivals.
England Head Coach Gary Street said: "It was great to get the win to start the series off but we certainly made it hard work for ourselves. We didn't execute at time which meant that we missed a lot of chances - we certainly should have had more points on the board in the first half.
"Throughout the match we showed a lot of diversity with several players having to play out of position but their knowledge and skill base, as well as character, shone through. With the next game on Tuesday recovery is key."