The Black Ferns winning streak of 16 consecutive Test matches ended with bullish defense. France made nearly 200 tenacious tackles and somehow held onto prevail 18-17.
The visitors were certainly helped by a Black Ferns team that was sometimes jumbled on attack and was too often caught isolated at the breakdown. An uncharacteristic 15 handling errors will be infuriating for the coaching staff.
In the opening five minutes, the Black Ferns mauled 20 metres to advance deep inside the French 22. A bounce pass was collected by Ruahei Demant who had less time than anticipated to pass. Marine Ménager snatched an intercept and offloaded with one arm to Émilie Boulard who dashed 80 metres for the opening try.
The Black Ferns responded swiftly. Ruby Tui stepped past Marine Ménager and distributed to the supporting Holmes who was pulled down five metres short. Patience and direct carries by the forwards saw Liana Mikaele-Tu’u eventually profit.
France looked effective when attacking the Black Ferns' defense on the edge. In the 16th minute, three quick passes released Cyrielle Banet and the winger fended off Holmes and accelerated to the line.
The tackle count was 48-10 against France in the opening quarter. After half an hour the Black Ferns had gained 354 metres with possession compared to France with 186. However. Gaëlle Hermet and Manaé Feleu were a menace over the ball and the Black Ferns handling deteriorated.
Two guilt-edged chances were lost when Sylvia Brunt bustled to halfway and dribbled a kick into vacant pasture that was smothered by the French. Then Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu reversed a pass inside to Ruby Tui who prized open the blue wall. When support arrived, Alana Bremner knocked on.
In the 34th minute, France constructed a breathless 15 phases that resulted in a handy penalty. Morgane Bourgeois chipped it over and the halftime score was 15-7.
Clara Joyeux forced Krystal Murray to buckle in a scrum after 45 minutes and Bourgeois stretched the French lead to 15-7.
Space was harder to come by, but the Black Ferns amplified the pressure in the scrum. Replacement rookie Chryss Viliko helped win a penalty and two tightheads but would see red with a rush of blood in the 64th minute.
Following 20 phases Viliko charged recklessly into a French defender at the ruck and made head-on-head contact.
Remarkably Murray returned and won the Black Ferns a scrum penalty. Big bursts from Tanya Kalounivale and Ruahei Demant set in motion a sequence of three offloads, two in contact, to Ruby Tui. Tui chipped ahead and Katelyn Vahaakolo won the race to the ball. A sideline conversion by Demant made it 18-17.
Mikaele-Tu’u and Kennedy Simon were abrasive and busy in the loose. Tui hasn’t lost her stride after her USA sabbatical. Brunt caused trouble in midfield and Kalounivale was immense off the bench.
France are worthy winners. Lock Madoussou Fall was a towering presence and Charlotte Escudero was arguably the best player on the ground with her stinging defense, hard carries, and exemplary lineout work.
In other WXV 1 matches, England thrashed Australia 42-7 with their lineouts a platform for four of their six tries, firstly when prop Hannah Botterman showed too much strength and powered through a host of Australia tacklers. Marlie Packer profited from two catch-and-drives, while Jessica Breach touched down out wide for England on the brink of the interval.
Meanwhile, Canada pulled away from Wales 42-22. Canada only led 21-17 at halftime but indiscipline ultimately cost Wales as Canada edged the physical battle after the break. Sophie de Goede led from the front with a try and six conversions to her name.
Black Ferns: 17 (Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, Katelyn Vahaakolo tries; Renee Holmes con pen; Ruahei Demant con) France: 18 (Émilie Boulard Cyrielle Banet tries; Morgane Bourgeois 2 pen, con) HT: 7-15
WXV 1 Round 2 Schedule
Friday 27 October Forsyth Barr Stadium
7pm: England Canada
Saturday 28 October, Forsyth Barr Stadium
4pm: Black Ferns v Wales
7pm: France v Australia
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