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Wallaroos drop to second tier as ruthless Black Ferns cruise to Pacific Four victory
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Wallaroos drop to second tier as ruthless Black Ferns cruise to Pacific Four victory

The World Cup dreams of Australia’s women’s rugby side have been dealt a brutal blow by New Zealand after an 11-try demolition dealt them a 67-19 defeat in the final Pacific Four Series match at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. The loss leaves the Wallaroos 0-3 under new coach Jo Yapp and drops them out of the top WXV1 division, leaving them to qualify for the 2025 World Cup from the second tier WXV2 to be staged in South Africa over September and October.

Australia needed a bonus point victory to qualify for WXV1 and had the weight of history against them, having never defeated their Trans Tasman rivals. Yapp also had to reshuffle her lineup, with Ashley Marsters ruled out due to an ankle injury.

Both teams entered the vital clash after shock defeats last weekend. The Australians let a half-time lead slip against the the USA and went down 32-25 in Melbourne, while New Zealand were stunned 22-19 by Canada in Christchurch.

Last week the Wallaroos had a flying start, racing out to a 17-3 lead after 30 minutes. This time it was the hosts that drew first blood, No 8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker crashing over for the opening try after just five minutes.

Australia hit back in style three minutes later when Arabella McKenzie sold a dummy to the Kiwi defence and raced 30m to cross untouched. It levelled the scores at 7-7 and gave the women in gold the sniff of a historic upset.

But poor restarts and ill-discipline soon had the Wallaroos back-pedalling and Sylvia Brunt made them pay, touching down next to the posts to make it 14-7. A well-weighted Renee Holmes’ grubber kick found winger Mererangi Paul who extended the lead, and then helped herself to a double after a perfect pass from Amy Du Plessis.

Hurricanes enforcer Olsen-Baker was punching holes in the gold wall every time she handled and put Liana Mikaele-Tu’u away on the half-hour mark to keep time with the scoreboard. Three minutes later teen superstar Sylvia Brunt left four Wallaroos defenders in her wake before a flurry of offloads put hooker Georgia Ponsonby in.

In the shadows of half-time, Katelyn Vahaakolo capped the half with a break from her own quarter, chip-kicking over McKenzie before beating 17-year-old full-back Caitlyn Halse for a sensational solo try that took New Zealand to a 45-7 blowout lead at half-time.

The Black Ferns scored first after the break to make it 48 unanswered points before McKenzie scored a second try for the Wallaroos followed by a consolation five-pointer for Maya Stewart. But it was too little too late as the siren blew on a 67-19 smashing.

“Really frustrating,” coach Yapp said afterward. “The area of the game that let us down was the breakdown. When we managed to hold onto the ball and recycle it, we got in behind them. But at one point we were just turning over ball way too easily.

“The second half we got a hold of the ball and managed to keep it for long periods and get some points on the board but a big focus is that breakdown and our ability to exit, which we couldn’t on our terms and put pressure on ourselves.”

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The heavy defeat is a major setback for the Australians who were looking to requalify for the WXV1 after finishing third last year in New Zealand thanks to famous wins over France and Wales. Instead, the Wallaroos must take the long way round via the WXV2.

Before that date with destiny the Wallaroos return to Test rugby in July against Fijiana on 6 July at Allianz Stadium. They will meet the Black Ferns again on 14 July at Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane, for a chance to restore pride and square the O’Reilly Cup.

Thereafter the Australians join South Africa, Scotland, Italy and two teams yet to be confirmed in the do-or-die WXV2 fighting for the remaining six World Cup spots. New Zealand, England, Canada and France having already secured their spots after semi-final finishes at the Rugby World Cup 2021.

Source: theguardian.com