The visitors had already locked away the Laurie O’Reilly Cup after a sterling display in game one in Christchurch as they returned to Australian soil for the first time since 2019. But the Wallaroos looked a very different unit, bringing commitment and urgency on defence to pressure the Black Ferns into errors.
Ruahei Demant’s team always looked to have the Australians’ measure in the second stanza but will lament eight handling errors, despite the fine conditions, which hampered their ability to build scoreboard pressure. Three tries to two was ultimately a fair reflection of what transpired.
There was a long-awaited Test debut for fullback Grace Steinmetz, while off the bench for her first international came prop Santo Taumata. Tanya Kalounivale was a late call-up to the starting XV for Amy Rule.
Playing into a stiff wind in the first spell, the Black Ferns worked the ball in close with their short passing, offloading game. That, and their solid scrum and superior lineout, made inroads into the Australians, but poor finishing let them down.
Australian sevens rep Bienne Terita scored the opening try, soon after shelling the ball with the tryline open. It came after a nice break by centre Georgie Friedrichs and a sweet pass by first five Arabella McKenzie. Terita completed a brace in the final minute to mark a quality debut.
Black Ferns Chelsea Semple was helped from the field after an accidental head clash with Wallaroos prop Liz Patu. To add insult to injury, Semple was harshly yellow carded for the collision. No 8 Kennedy Simon followed soon afterwards, limping off with a leg injury.
The Black Ferns finally got on the board via a try to hooker Luka Connor after an incision by dangerous centre Sylvia Brunt. Wallaroos lock Atasi Lafai was binned for a cynical play, a team foul, in effect.
The second spell saw the Black Ferns gradually claw back the initiative, a strong charge by debutante Taumata leading to a try to industrious player of the match, lock Joanah Ngan-Woo. Loose forward Kendra Reynolds then showed her power in close to extend the lead to 22-7 before the late flourish by the Wallaroos.
Outstanding for the Black Ferns, along with Ngan-Woo, were fellow lock Maia Roos, who soared high in the lineout, the energetic Ruby Tui on the wing, Reynolds and Brunt.
The Wallaroos looked to the loose forward Grace Hamilton and Em Chancellor in a much improved defensive effort.
The Black Ferns will know that much work lies ahead on their skill execution. They have a game plan that is working and need the skills to match that ambition.
The Rugby World Cup kicks off in six weeks today against the same opponents. Australia knows what’s coming and, after today, the Black Ferns will know they will need patience and accuracy to break them down.
Black Ferns 22 (Luka Connor, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Kendra Reynolds tries; Ruahei Demant 2 con, pen) Australia 14 (Bienne Terita 2 tries; Arabella McKenzie 2 con) HT: 10-7 Black Ferns