Black Ferns fall to England in WXV 1 decider

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In the final, title-deciding fixture the Red Roses completed 2023 with an unblemished 10-0 record with a more polished and precise display than the hosts.

England burst out the gates like a freight train, the Black Ferns hardly touching the ball in the first 15 minutes. The back row of Alex Matthews, Marlie Packer and Morwenna Talling were damaging, and the illusive outside backs of Ellie Kildunne, Abby Dow and Claudia MacDonald found holes as England cast an anchor inside Black Ferns territory.

It was England’s set piece that was the source of their first two tries. Matthews emerged among congestion following a mighty scrum and then the redoubtable English lineout pushed over from a catch and drive. Hooker Lark Atkin Davies scored her fifth try in a fortnight.

The Black Ferns predicament became bigger when bustling tighthead Sarah Bern rumbled over for her 22nd try in 62 Tests following sustained and structured forward cohesion.

The deficit could have been even larger if Kildunne hadn’t had a foot in touch galloping after a Holly Aitchison grubber. The TMO disallowed a try.

Greater numbers and more aggression at the breakdown finally saw the Black Ferns compete. A burst down the right wing side by Ruby Tui at halfway carried New Zealand to the English 22. A loose pass was recovered by the tireless Alana Bremner which allowed an overlap to develop. Co-captain Kennedy Simon finished with a ten metre charge in the 37th minute.

The Black Ferns had renewed vigour at the start of the second spell. A wobbly lineout started to function. After a maul, England was caught napping on the flanks and Katelyn Vahaakolo finished on the left wing.

Swift, clean transfers in midfield were a rarity. The English midfield of Helena Rowland and Tatyana Heard proved resolute, their tackling generally watertight. 

With five tries in seven Tests Vahaakolo was named World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.

There was a hint at 19-12 that the finish would be epic. Instead, Black Ferns errors relinquished momentum. Two inspired breaks by rampaging No.8 Liana Mikaele-Tu’u yielded no profit. Missing touch from penalties against England is a cardinal sin.

Talling scored a try in the 55th minute from repeat pick-and-goes. Aldcroft similarly settled the contest with a dozen minutes remaining.

England won in New Zealand for the third time since fixtures started in 1997. In her 99th Test Packer was awarded the World Rugby Player of the Year. She made her debut way back in 2008.

Simon was unrelenting for the Black Ferns. Alana and her sister Chelsea Bremner worked hard. Iritana Hohaia added spark from halfback off the bench and second five Sylvia Brunt grew in stature. Mistakes were too frequent to be serious contenders.

Disappointingly the Black Ferns finished fourth out of six countries in WXV 1. Canada beat France 29-20 in the curtain raiser. On Friday, the Wallaroos sent coach and teacher Jay Tregonning back to school as a winner with a gutsy and emotional 25-19 win over Wales.

England: 33 (Alex Matthews, Lark Atkin Davies, Sarah Bern, Morwenna Talling, Zoe Aldcroft) Black Ferns: 12 (Kennedy Simon, Katelyn Vahaakolo tries; Renee Holmes con) HT: 19-7


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