Perhaps not emphatically, against a highly competitive NZ Barbarians team that played with freedom and uncovered several work-ons for the world champs, but back in action in front of their home fans all the same.
The 34-15 scoreline at Waitakere’s Trusts Arena was highlighted by tries to the three starting debutantes, left wing Langi Veainu, athletic lock Kelsie Wills and right wing Cheyelle Robins-Reti. Three others made their debuts in the black jersey – lock Chelsea Bremner, flanker Kendra Reynolds and wing Amy du Plessis.
The two sides had first clashed in 2019 in an unofficial hitout in Auckland, but this was a bonafide first-class match and was as entertaining as it was ‘play for keeps.’
The Black Ferns’ accuracy did not always match their ambition, but this was a decent starting point 10 months out from Rugby World Cup.
They started much the stronger, despite some understandable loose and rusty play, having not played in over a year.
Kendra Cocksedge scored within four minutes off a sweet lineout move and offload by No 8 Aroha Savage.
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Veainu received a heap of ball and scored two first half tries, while Wills showed her anticipatory skills, pouncing on a Barbarians error off a lineout for her try.
Centre Grace Brooker set up Veainu’s second try with a fine offload and, at 20-0 inside 25 minutes, it looked like the floodgates were creaking open.
But the Barbarians, despite a heavy penalty count against them, showed their resilience, working their way back into the game and commanding possession in the second and third quarters, stealing lineouts and with good defensive line speed in the backs.
A shining example of their skill and desire to play freely came with a grubber by Canadian lock Cindy Nelles. Wing Lyric Faleafaga showed her searing pace to race through to beat Veainu and score from the fortuitous bounce. At 20-15, it was game-on.
But the Black Ferns stabilised, showing patience and good hands to put Robins-Reti over and then Brooker scored an opportunistic try off a Ruahei Demant kick.
First five Hazel Tubic took the ball to the line well in her first outing for the Black Ferns since 2017, while Savage was strong in the loose.
Standouts for the Barbarians were lock Joanah Ngan-Woo, unlucky to miss Black Ferns selection, loosehead prop Krystal Murray, who scored her side’s first try in close after a tighthead, No 10 Carys Dallinger and fullback Patricia Maliepo, who moved into first five later in the action.
*In the Rugby World Cup qualifying curtainraiser between Samoa and Tonga, Manusina blanked Tonga 40-0.
Black Ferns 34 (Langi Veainu 2, Kendra Cocksedge, Kelsie Wills, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Grace Brooker tries; Cocksedge con, Hazel Tubic con) NZ Barbarians 15 (Lyric Faleafaga, Krystal Murray tries; Patricia Maliepo con, pen) HT: 20-8 Black Ferns