The Black Ferns have won all seven of their opening matches in past tournaments with performances that were often a precursor to greater things. The Black Ferns have won the World Cup five times. Can they start their 2022 campaign with a bang? They only have to look to the past for inspiration.
July 7, 1991: Canada, Glamorgan – Won 24-8
New Zealand were convincing winners against Canada outscoring the Canadians six tries to two. The first try in World Cup history was scored by wing Helen Mahon-Stroud who raced onto a long propping kick from outside half Jacqui Apiata, before gathering the ball and touching down in the left corner. The Canterbury University flyer would add two more tries to her tally. Midfield back Debbie Chase crossed the stripe twice and Taranaki openside Geraldine Paul completed the Kiwis scoring.
The only thing I remember about that first (World Cup) try was from the little footage I viewed on the Story of Rugby in 2019,” Mahon-Stroud said.
“I wasn’t aware footage existed until I saw that. The footage actually switches before I dot down, but it looks like quick hands along the backline leaves me with plenty of room to skirt the defence and score in the left corner. I’m not sure how far into the game it was.”
May 2, 1998: Germany, Amsterdam – Won: 134-6
A world record win at the time saw 22 tries scored and a dozen conversions kicked. The halftime score was 84-3. Wings Louisa Wall and Dianne Kahura saw plenty of action with seven tries between them while fullback Tammi Wilson scored four tries and kicked five conversions for a haul of 30 points on debut.
“On the digital scoreboard, they only had room for two numbers – at one stage the score was New Zealand 03 and Germany 06, which drew a crowd because word got around that the Germans were leading,” Wilson laughed.
Regina Sheck (2), Rochelle Martin (2) and Farah Palmer were the forwards to score tries.
Fiji beat Papua New Guinea 152-0 in July to pass the Black Ferns record.
May 13, 2002: Germany, Barcelona - Won: 117-0
The Black Ferns started their 2002 World Cup defence with another slaughter of Germany. This victory featured 19 tries and 11 conversions. Vanessa Cootes dotted down a handful of times and history was repeated for Dianne Kahura who scored four tries again.
The victory was also notable for the debut of halfback Emma Jensen who established the record for most first class games by a female player in New Zealand, a tally that included 49 tests (44 in a row).
“I got yellow carded and was spewing because it was a team penalty. When I came back on I scored a try which was great, but I felt I’d let the team down by being sin-binned,” Jensen recalled.
“We had these player cards we could fill out if you felt you hadn’t represented the values of the Black Ferns. I slipped one underneath (coach) Darryl Suasua’s door and he handed it back to me which was nice. I still have it.”
August 31, 2006: Canada, Edmonton – Won: 66-7
The writing was on the wall for Canada in the first minute when Claire Richardson scored out wide on the right wing. In the ten-try romp, Richardson would end with a hat-trick.
“I saw Claire as a wing, but she was great cover in the midfield for Exia Shelford and Hannah Myers. She was a powerful runner with plenty of pace,” coach Jed Rowlands said.
Melissa Ruscoe impressed in her World Cup debut. On the blindside she scored two tries and even briefly covered halfback. A former New Zealand football captain, she would go on to captain the Black Ferns and Black Ferns Sevens. She never lost in 22 tests.
August 20, 2010: South Africa, Guilford – Won 55-3
By 2010 it appeared Anna Richards' World Rugby Hall of Fame career was all over. Remarkably in 2009 she had been dropped by new coach Brian Evans, only to be recalled two weeks before the tournament. Utility back Amiria Rule (née Marsh) had failed to return from an ACL reconstruction.
“I toiled away all year and was like, do I give up or not? Then I was like, you know what? I’ve never been in the position of not being the first choice before so it’s a really good opportunity to do the hard work and try and get back in. I was never a quitter,” Richards explained.
“I had little contact with Brian until two days before our first game in Guildford against South Africa. He asked me at training, 'What do you expect to get out of this tournament?’ I responded, ‘I’m going to enjoy every minute and support the team.’ He said ‘You’re starting against South Africa,’ who were the lowest ranked team. Generally, you give your dirties a run in the first game, and they don’t play again; but he kept picking me, which was a bonus.”
With Richards' proven stewardship New Zealand made a solid start against South Africa. Playing with the wind at their backs the New Zealanders opened with three tries in the first 15 minutes.
New Zealand ran in nine tries in the game, three of them to wing Carla Hohepa while centre Kelly Brazier scored 15 points.
Richards’ would go on to start the 13-10 win in the final against England.
August: 1, 2014: Kazakhstan, Marcoussis - Won 79-5
Kazakhstan was more than willing but predictably outclassed 79-5, conceding 13 tries. In searing heat Huriana Manuel, Fiao’o Fa'amausili, Selica Winiata and Kelly Brazier all dotted down twice.
Prop Aleisha-Pearl Nelson reflected, “It was so hot that tournament water breaks were made compulsory every 20 minutes. Kazakhstan was in awe of us. They were so proud to be playing New Zealand in rugby and showed incredible respect. Ironically they were coached by a Maori.”
August 9 2017: Wales, Dublin, Won 44-12
The comprehensive win was built on a combination of stoic defence and backline flair.
Fullback Selica Winiata with three tries and wing Portia Woodman with a double sounded an ominous warning to their rivals. The pursuit for ‘Nancy’ was successfully underway. Charmaine McMenamin expanded on the idea of ‘Nancy.’
“Our coach (Glenn Moore) said I have a role model for you. She is a Kiwi and her name is Nancy Wake. I want you to find out all you can about her. Do your research and then report back to us.
“The idea of Nancy Wake worked because it was about a New Zealand woman going into enemy territory and achieving incredible things against the odds.”
Nancy Wake was a World War II hero.
The Black Ferns open their World Cup campaign against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday 8 October. A world-record crowd for women's rugby of over 30,000 is expected to attend the match. Get your tickets HERE.