Black Wings 17
The bar has been set for the Black Ferns.
As they open their account in the newly created WXV 1 tournament against France, there are many questions that need to be answered about how they will do against the other elite teams in the world.
In their 18-17 loss to Wellington, the Black Ferns addressed some of this.
The Black Ferns were not helped by a red card to reserve prop Chryss Viliko, who had no arguments after being marched off in the 64th minute for a bad play in which he took down a straight player that the French are on the verge of breaking down in strength.
But the French had their number for most of the night; countered the Black Ferns’ free-flowing style of play with an aggressive and fast pace down the line that led to some solid defending, making their tackles until the hosts finally let them go by dropping the ball , which was a glaring issue throughout the night.
This is the first time since their victory in the Rugby World Cup that the New Zealand team met an opponent from the Six Nations. During that time, a new coaching team took over and new players were brought in on trial.
France is in a similar situation. After the Black Ferns sent them out of the World Cup last year in the semifinals, coach Thomas Darracq left his position and was replaced by joint head coaches David Ortiz and former national team flanker Gaelle Mignot. They have also undergone a number of player moves and this will be their first outing in France since their Six Nations campaign ended in late April.
Anyone watching might have thought it was the Black Ferns who arrived with no game time under their belts as the hosts struggled in attack all night, although their scrum was a big bright spot because even at seven they were steamrolling the French.
It was an exciting start as both teams turned the ball over on their first possessions, but the Black Ferns settled early to get into French territory.
However, the French knew by now that the Black Ferns liked to throw the ball around and when Ruahei Demant looked to scoop up a loose ball inside the French 22, opposing center Marine Manager was there to pick it up.
Menager quickly found her left winger Emilie Boulard, who had impressed throughout the contest, and Boulard slotted past Black Ferns fullback Renee Holmes to open the scoring.
Soon after the Black Ferns returned, Ruby Tui made her mark on her return to the test arena with some footwork to break the line and get her side on the front foot. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u went close from close range soon after.
But just five minutes later, France took the lead again as right winger Cyrielle Banet found just enough room to dance down the sideline, avoiding several tackles en route to finishing a impressive solo effort.
France made a lot of tackles in the opening 20 with the Black Ferns dictating the pace, but they also did well to affect the breakdown and win turnovers, with three in the opening quarter of the game.
Building on that platform, the French held a 15-7 lead at halftime and extended that with another penalty early in the second stanza – despite being disallowed about 10 minutes later.
The Black Ferns continued to struggle with possession, and after Viliko was sent off it felt like a mountain to climb. Instead, they clawed their way back into things behind their dominant scrum and when Tui put in a deft grubber for Katelyn Vahaakolo to score within an hour of work.
However, the French managed to hold on, sealing their first victory on New Zealand soil.
Black Wings 17 (Liana Michael-Tu’u, Katelyn Vahaakolo try; Renee Holmes con, pen, Ruahei Demant con)
France 18 (Emilie Boulard, Cyrielle Banet try; Morgane Bourgeois con, 2 pen)