The defending RWC holders won 19-17 at Trafalgar Park, taking the series 2-0, but had to work extra hard to subdue the Barbarians, who played with freedom, as befitting a team with nothing to lose, and physicality.
The Black Ferns, after their 34-15 victory last Saturday in Auckland, were seeking to make an early statement. The haka signified their intent, both sides advancing towards each other in a spine-tingling preamble to another willing contest in which no quarter was asked or given.
Fullback Renee Holmes and right wing Grace Steinmetz enjoyed busy debuts for the Black Ferns as the women in black seized the early initiative.
Loosehead prop Pip Love scored the first of her brace after just two minutes in close, and hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate crossed from a well-executed lineout drive. That made it 12-0 after just eight minutes, but that did not deter the determined Barbarians.
No 10 Patricia Maliepo was calling the shots with aplomb, lock Joanah Ngan-Woo was aggressive in contact and captain Alana Bremner was a reliable lineout target. The Barbarians were turning over and slowing down the Black Ferns’ ball.
Barbarians No 8 Cindy Nelles will be at the RWC for Canada, but she showed she would not be out of place in black with another vigorous display, which included setting up Bremner for the Barbarians’ first try.
When prop Amy Rule bustled over off a drive, the Barbarians had wrested the lead, 14-12.
It was time for the Black Ferns to tighten their structures and throw to captain Eloise Blackwell at two in the lineout. The simpler approach paid dividends when Love scored her second on the stroke of halftime.
The Barbarians trailed at the break, but there was no sign of the white flag. In fact, they enjoyed the better of the second stanza, scoring the sole points via Maliepo’s boot and punching holes out wide through the likes of Kilisitina Moata’ane and Lyric Faleafaga.
Both sides rang the changes, Hazel Tubic slotting into pivot, pushing Ruahei Demant out one.
Try as they might, the Black Ferns could not shake their committed opponents, meaning Glenn Moore and his selectors will have much to ponder ahead of RWC 2021, where the Black Ferns will face the Australian Wallaroos, Wales and a qualifier.
This match was the first leg of a double-header with the Tasman-Bay of Plenty Mitre 10 Cup Premiership semifinal.
Black Ferns 19 (Pip Love 2, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate tries; Kendra Cocksedge 2 con)
NZ Barbarians 17 (Alana Bremner, Amy Rule tries; Patricia Maliepo 2 con, pen) HT: 19-14 Black Ferns