The Black Ferns in Rugby World Cup Semifinals

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France lost to England in pool play and will enter Saturdays’ contest at Eden Park as the lower seed. However, they beat Black Ferns twice last year.

The Black Ferns haven’t lost a World Cup semifinal since the first tournament in 1991. 

1991: July 21: USA – Lost: 0-7

New Zealand was generally outplayed by the eventual champions who missed a conversion and three penalty kicks throughout the match. The USA scored their solitary try in the 56th minute, later adding a penalty.

New Zealand Captain Helen Littleworth reflected, “It was rugged. We had the skills but were behind the US in terms of match play and fitness; they were big and strong. Their women had organised competition for some years and had set a benchmark which sounds funny to say now.

The very first women’s side to tour New Zealand was the superbly named Rio Grande Surfers, from San Diego, in June 1980. Self-funded they won all four matches being housed with the opposing teams. They were followed by the San Diego State University ‘Aztecs’ in 1982 and the San Diego Surfers in 1986 who won all their eight matches on tour. The Surfers even played a match against a Canterbury XV as curtain raiser to the All Blacks v France test at Lancaster Park in 1986.

The USA won 16 of their first 19 internationals between 1987 and 1994.

1998: May: 12: England, Amsterdam – Won: 44-11

New Zealand powered home against England in a textbook display of knockout rugby. Centre Annaleah Rush, later named player of the tournament, scored 24 points (two tries, four conversions and two penalties) in a headline grabbing display. However, rugby writer Stephen Jones wrote in the Sunday Times:

 “The team’s keynote player has been Louisa Wall, a tall powerful wing who stays close to the forwards and takes the ball up into the first lines of defence.

 “New Zealand’s women's team are in many senses the most astonishing team I have ever encountered, so far ahead of where a women’s team has any right to be at this stage of development of the game and with a dominance that threatens to be without end.”

Wall, who scored 48 tries in 32 official first class games, didn’t score a try in the game but opposite wing Vanessa Coutts dotted down twice, and first-five and 2014 World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Anna Richards was all class, rewarded with a try.

Rush, sister of All Black Xavier Rush, was lucky to be at the tournament in the first place.

“I ruptured the ligament in my left pinky, the one that goes over the top so I could never pull my finger back up again. I had to wear a brace for months. The pinky was straight in the brace, but it hurt like hell because it was pressing down. It slowly came back to shape again but throughout my career I played with a plastic heated thing on to protect it.”


2002: May: 21, France, Barcelona – Won 30-0

The Black Ferns were never seriously threatened by the French but disappointingly finished the game with 13 players after flanker Adrianne Lili'i and then winger Amiria Marsh were yellow carded close to full time. reported:

“The Black Ferns' forward pack once again provided the platform for victory, driving the French back with their powerful mauling, and gaining a crucial edge in a compelling scrummaging contest and in the lineouts. However, the New Zealanders look set to `celebrate' their achievement with several days of hard work on the training track after conceding a rash of penalties in what was a patchy display by their own standards.”

Lock in three World Cup triumphs Victoria Heighway observed:

“I hate to blame the ref, but some of those refs were so overprotective. For goodness’ sake, let us play rugby. I think they targeted us a little more because they were worried about what we could do and what could go wrong because we were so far ahead of most countries. I can understand what they were trying to do, but sometimes it detracted from the spectacle when we were trying to really promote women’s rugby.”

The Black Ferns try scorers were Dianne Kahura (wing), Melodie Robinson (flanker), Tammi Wilson (fullback) and Rebecca Liua'ana (prop).

2006: September: 12, France (Semifinal) – Won 40-10

The New Zealand Herald reported, “Although the victory margin was conclusive, the French pack did apply pressure for sustained periods, with their first try following the fragmentation of a New Zealand defensive scrum feed five metres from their line.”

There was no wilting from veteran flanker Rochelle Martin. The three-time World Cup winner was renowned for her superior toughness. She was mesmerizing, scoring two tries and reflecting:

“The French are a phenomenal team, big and strong with great athletes. I think that was the closest I got to playing a perfect game. I remember it much more clearly than the final where England pummelled us for the first 20 minutes and all we could do was defend and defend to survive.”

In the previous two years France had won 18 Tests in a row.

2010: September: 1, France, London (Semifinal) – Won 45-7

France made the Black Ferns work hard to gain the ascendancy in the first quarter but were unable to produce any points and the tide soon turned and the floodgates opened.

Wing Carla Hohepa was too quick and strong in the ninth minute when she shrugged off her opposite number before a superb in and out move left the fullback stranded.

Captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili showed great pace to set up Victoria Grant (nee Blackledge) leaving New Zealand in a comfortable position at halftime.

Blackledge proved especially tough to stop and a try she created for Anna Richards proved extremely popular with educated fans.

Hohepa finished with a double and was still playing in 2022 helping Chiefs Manawa win the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki.

2017: August: 22, USA (Semifinal), Belfast, Won 45-12

Keenly fought in the opening quarter, the Black Ferns dynamic speed and power game eventually blew USA away. The game was a showcase for Portia Woodman who bagged four tries and was even compared to Jonah Lomu.

“Just the thought that people even compare me to Jonah or anyone else is huge. I am a long way off someone as great as him. I take it as a compliment,” Woodman said.

The score after 25 minutes was 8-7 to New Zealand. The 2018 Rugby Almanack reported what happened next: 

“Woodman’s first try in the semifinal, against a powerful USA team, was a stunning 45-meter run during which she fended off three tacklers and evaded two more before scoring under the posts...Shortly after halftime, she scored again with the score advancing to 20-7, and the Americans' confidence was broken. Two more tries and the Black Ferns won 45-12. Woodman's brilliant individual try won the voting by Sky fans as the best try of the year.”

In December 2020 the try was acknowledged as the Women’s 15s Try of the Decade by World Rugby. 

In 2017 Woodman was the only female player selected by the respected Planet Rugby website in their First XV of the year.


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