Group B of the Cazoo Women’s World Cup got under way at York’s LNER Community Stadium this evening three-time champions the Kiwi Ferns came up against France, who then go on to face double winners Australia in the next round.
The Chanticleers will be hoping for a stand-out performance in a “group of death” containing the only two teams to have won the women’s World Cup, before hosting the competition themselves in 2025.
But the odds were definitely in favour of the Kiwi Ferns – and the only time the tournament has come close to producing a shock so far was the previous night when Canada’s women scored 12 points despite going down to the PNG Orchids.
New Zealand kicked off, but without any real distance and France played their first play-the-ball from their 30m, ending the set and kicking from within the Kiwi half.
But was a Ferns’ loose pass than ended the first scoring opportunity on three minutes, only finding touch as the Katelyn Vaha’akolo pressed down the right-hand touchline in space.
But the Chanticleers pressed the Ferns’ line with a number of attacks in the opening 10 minutes in return, in an evenly balanced start to the game.
With 15 minutes gone, though, New Zealand started to press and dominate, although the French defence seemed to cope with the pressure, forcing errors and lost balls.
And then a high kick forced Vaha’akolo to drop the ball and knock on while fielding it and give France an attacking set in the Kiwi 20m, disrupted by an injury and head injury assessment to loose forward to Leila Bessahli after a hard contact with the ground.
When play resumed the French team pressured the Ferns line, until a handling error coughed up possession in a repeat set.
Their second error in as many may minutes then handed over possession deep in their own half when they couldn’t get an end-of-set kick away.
The Ferns’ pressure finally cracked the French defence on the 24th minute as they moved the ball to the right, then back to the left where Madison Bartlett took advantage of an overlap to run in and score. Brianna Clark’s conversion attempt hit the crossbar and the score in a tight game sat at 4-0.
The Kiwis doubled that when Ampi Nicholls ran onto a kick from wide to ground it undertake posts and this time Clark’s kick was successful. At 10-0 the game was starting to look like it might follow the pattern of every other game in the men’s and women’s tournaments so far, as the wind and rain led to an error under the high ball and NewZealand notched up their third try courtesy of Amber Hall.
Clark’s second conversion took the score to 16-0.
Roxy Murdoch-Masila extended that to 20-0, scoring in the corner just before the hooter, Clark missed again from the touchline and the teams went into the break with the Ferns 20-0 ahead.
The second half was just two minutes old when a sweeping move from left to right, involving half a dozen players, saw Vaha’akolo dive over in the corner for a 24-0 lead, Clark’s kick missed the posts once more from the touchline.
Next time New Zealand pressed, they tried to go through hands to the right again, but were forced back inside where Paige McGregor found herself on the receiving end of a pin-point kick to plant the ball over the line, with two defenders hanging off her. Nicholls took over kicking duties from Clark, who had been substituted, and proved successful from out wide for a 30-0 score.
Minutes later, Vaha’akolo got her second try in the corner, lurking in space on the touchline where her centre Shanice Parker laid a simple pass for her to score. There was no conversion from the right-hand touchline and the Ferns led 34-0.
New Zealand showed that they were human when they failed to find touch with a penalty for a ball steal, but their defence rallied and at the end of the set, Fanny Ramos could do no better that cross the line with two defenders preventing her from grounding the ball.
As the final 10 minutes approached, the Ferns crossed the line twice, only to be denied by the French defence who held up Otela Pule and Nita Maynard.
The Ferns continued to press and nearly scored from an angled kick by Raecene McGregor missed by three French defenders before being lost in the act of grounding by Clark.
But sustained pressure saw Murdoch-Masila power over after 76 minutes for her second try, Brianna Clark kicked her third conversion from the left-hand touchline and New Zealand led 40-0.
Parker rounded off the win with a blistering 100m run from her own goal line to for a 44-0 score, quickly turned to 46-0 by Clark’s conversion from in front of the posts.
The Kiwi Ferns had started their defence of the trophy with a clear victory – but arguably a tighter competition than the score suggested. While France had much to take from their performance as they lay the ground for 2025
New Zealand: Nicholls (G); Vaha’akolo (2T), Parker (T), P McGregor (T), Bartlett (T); Stephens-Daly, R McGregor; Hill-Moana, Rota, Nu’uausala, Murdoch-Masila (2T), Hall (T). Subs: Hale, Maynard, Scanlan, Pule, Clark (4G).
France: M Samarra, Canal, Civile, Pastre-Courtine,, Song-Poche; Ciria, Varela; Mansard, Ramos, Alvernhe, Akpa, Monsarrat Bessahli. Subs: Pacull, Borak, Kuresa, D Samarra.
Full Time: 46-0
Score Progression: 4-0, 8-0, 10-0, 14-0, 16-0, 20-0. HT. 24-0, 28-0, 30-0, 34-0, 38-0, 40-0, 44-0, 46-0. FT.
Lead: New Zealand
Venue: LNER Community Stadium, York
Referee: Ben Thaler.