Eva Karpani, the hero of the game, scored three tries and led the Wallaroos to victory over France in the inaugural WXV1 tournament.
Eddie Jones did not attend the event, fueling rumors about his position as overseer for both the men’s and women’s national rugby teams. However, the women’s rugby movement in Australia achieved a significant milestone yesterday as the Wallaroos surprised France with a 29-20 victory in their WXV1 match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Last Friday, Australia was defeated by England with a score of 42-7. As a result, they were expected to be easy targets for France, who surprised everyone by beating the tournament hosts New Zealand 18-17 in the first round. However, Australia proved to be the better team from the beginning, outplaying their higher-ranked opponents with strong tactics and precise execution.
The Wallaroos were in control during the beginning of the game, using a variety of tactics such as sharp angles, inside passes, and decoy runners to put France on the defensive. This paid off in the third minute when No 13 Georgie Friedrichs scored twice and Arabella McKenzie made a great run to break through the line. Layne Morgan then passed to Eva Karpani for a try.
The coach of the Wallaroos, Jay Tregonning, had cautioned his team about the French ability to score points from transition plays. As predicted, France launched a counterattack in the 14th minute after a poor clearance kick, resulting in Emilie Boulard scoring in the left corner.
France gained an advantage with Boulard’s quickness and Marina Menager’s cleverness leading to repeated line-breaks, despite the brave defense of flanker Emily Chancellor, one-Test winger Desiree Miller, and Friedrichs, keeping Les Bleus at a tie with a score of 7-7.
Due to Ashley Marsters’ absence due to injury, the Wallaroos relied on their most experienced player, 21-cap Chancellor. In the 22nd minute, she displayed her skills by making a crucial tackle on French number eight Charlotte Escudero, ultimately leading to a turnover. The 32-year-old Harlequins player then made an impressive run down the field, setting up her teammates for nine patient phases. Finally, Friedrichs left Alexandra Chambon behind with a left-foot step and scored Australia’s second try.
During the halftime break, the French team increased their efforts and came close to tying the score. However, a strong tackle from Tania Naden caused them to lose possession of the ball. As a result, France decided to kick a penalty goal, bringing the score to 12-10 going into the second half.
After the break, Australia had control of the field and their halfback Layne Morgan caused a turnover at the scrumbase. The gold forwards then ignited, going through 22 phases before Karpani broke through three defenders and scored her second try, bringing the score to 19-10.
After effectively improving his team’s set piece following their defeat against England, Tregonning made substitutions before the 60-minute mark. Leilani Nathan, 23, came in for her second Test appearance and Adiana Talakai for her seventh. The new players’ energy led to three consecutive turnovers in quick succession (two by Chancellor and one by Morgan), allowing the Wallaroos to advance upfield.
Karpani created a memorable moment in the 70th minute by scoring a powerful rolling maul from the Wallaroos. She successfully maneuvered past two defenders and scored her third try of the Test.
The Wallaroos clinched a historic win by holding off a late comeback from France, who managed to score two consolation tries. This victory marks the first time Australia has defeated a team ranked in the top three, and only the second time they have beaten France since 2010.
Although proud of his most significant triumph during his rule, Tregonning did not consider it an unexpected result. “Not in our perspective. We competed against a team ranked higher than us, but we had a strategy. The most important aspect was our teamwork. That was our focus. The commitment of the entire team and our rigorous training was evident on the field tonight.”
In the second round of matches, England emerged victorious over Canada with a score of 45-12 in Wellington. Meanwhile, New Zealand redeemed themselves from their first-round defeat by beating Wales with a score of 70-7. Australia will face Wales in their upcoming match on Friday evening in Auckland.