Match Details: Black Ferns vs France, Saturday 5 November, 7:30pm NZT, Eden Park
Watch: Live on Spark Sport
Referee: Clara Munarini
Assistant Referees: Sara Cox (AR1), Amber McLachlan (AR2)
TMO: Joy Neville
The Black Ferns powered past Wales 55-3 in last week’s quarterfinal but France represents a significantly bigger challenge.
France have won their last four Tests against the Black Ferns dating back to November 2018. Their style of play, a combination of classic French flair coupled with suffocating defence, is the antithesis of the Black Ferns ambitious approach to run it from anywhere with impunity. Hooker Georgia Ponsonby commented following the November 2021 Tests.
“In New Zealand you have opportunities to build phases, hit holes and create gaps. The French were kick, kick, kick - which was frustrating to play. They didn’t allow you to play close quarter contact, you were turning around all the time.
“We got absolutely annihilated in the mauls. In the past I’ve been the hooker in the channel. On tour I was smack bang in the middle of the lineouts but I understand mauls a lot better now. It’s really about mindset. You either put your body on the line or die wondering.”
TO KICK OR NOT TO KICK
The Black Ferns have kicked the ball 39 times in the whole tournament contrasted with France who have kicked it 116 times.
France are very good at dictating territory and frequently regain possession from kicks with 14 out of 22 kicks in the quarter final against Italy, regathered. In all four matches at the World Cup, France have regained 55 kicks. Director of Rugby Wanye Smith commented.
“The halfback is an outstanding box kicker. She gives herself a bit of room and is expert at it. The fullback has got a big left foot and their first-five is the most attacking kicker in the world with a box of tricks. They’ve dominated games through territory. It’s not easy to counter so it’s going to be a great test for us I think.”
The Black Ferns might be forced to kick more often against a suppressive team but who will perform that duty? Ruahei Demant has an educated right boot, Kendra Cocksedge kicks often for Canterbury. Can Renee Holmes clear under pressure or find space if France are short at the back.
If France kick poorly they are liable to be punished by Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui and a lethal Black Ferns backline who have thrilled with several long range tries.
The Black Ferns pack is more settled than it has been at any point in 2022 making no changes to the starting XV for the second consecutive match. Breakdown pressure will influence the speed and accuracy of the French kicking.
France lost to England 13-7 in a titanic tussle in Whangārei on October 15 to finish second behind England in Pool B. France made a staggering 227 tackles in that match, conceding just a single try.
Otherwise they’ve been largely unchallenged at this tournament easily accounting for South Africa (40-5), Fiji (44-0) and Italy (39-3).
France at their best are ruthlessly clinical. Their maul, broken play attack and aforementioned kicking game are a strength. In the quarterfinal against Italy lock Madoussou Fall, first-five Caroline Drouin and fullback Emilie Boulard were exceptional.
However, all three French victories have been characterised by long spells of error and little scoring.
Nine of the starting line-up for this semi-final also started in France’s 29-7 victory over New Zealand in their last meeting in November 2021. Agathe Sochat, Annaëlle Deshaye, Céline Ferer, captain Gaëlle Hermet, Romane Ménager, Pauline Bourdon, Gabrielle Vernier, Maëlle Filopon and Drouin all started in Castres, while Clara Joyeux and Boulard came off the bench. Sochat scored one of France’s four tries in the victory, while Drouin kicked two conversions and a penalty.
France won the first women’s international in 1982 beating the Netherlands 4-0. They have 179 wins, 5 draws, 77 defeats in their history making the World Cup semifinals eight times in nine tournaments.
Portia Woodman has scored a record 20 tries in seven World Cup appearances. In the quarterfinal against Wales her second try saw her pass England’s Sue Day as the World Cup record holder. Day, who scored 61 tries in 59 tests, commented:
“Portia’s got everything, out and out pace, ability to change direction, strength in the contact area, a defensive game. She’s a proper all round rugby player, fearless when it comes to finishing.”
With 38 tires in 22 Tests, Woodman is only one try short of equalling Selica Winiata for second on the all-time Black Ferns list for most Test tries.
Woodman has scored 10 tries in her last two Tests at Eden Park. Can she be stopped?
Black Ferns: 1. Phillipa Love, 2. Georgia Ponsonby, 3. Amy Rule, 4. Maiakawanakaulani Roos, 5. Chelsea Bremner, 6. Alana Bremner, 7. Sarah Hirini, 8. Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, 9. Kendra Cocksedge, 10. Ruahei Demant (C), 11. Portia Woodman, 12. Theresa Fitzpatrick, 13. Stacey Fluhler, 14. Ruby Tui , 15. Renee Holmes.
Reserves: 16. Luka Connor, 17. Krystal Murray, 18. Santo Taumata, 19. Joanah Ngan-Woo, 20. Kennedy Simon, 21. Ariana Bayler, 22. Hazel Tubic, 23.Ayesha Leti-l'iga
France: 1. Annaëlle Deshaye, 2. Agathe Sochat, 3. Clara Joyeux, 4. Céline Ferer, 5. Madoussou Fall, 6. Gaëlle Hermet (captain), 7. Charlotte Escudero, 8. Romane Ménager, 9. Pauline Bourdon, 10. Caroline Drouin, 11. Marine Ménager, 12. Gabrielle Vernier, 13. Maëlle Filopon, 14. Joanna Grisez, 15. Emilie Boulard
Reserves: 16. Célia Domain, 17. Coco Lindelauf, 18. Assia Khalfaoui, 19. Safi N'Diaye, 20. Marjorie Mayans, 21. Alexandra Chambon, 22. Lina Queyroi, 23. Chloé Jacquet