The Wallaroos are still winless against New Zealand but regained some respect with a much-improved performance at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
The Australian women suffered a 22-14 loss – their 22nd in a row – but at least showed a healthy dose of fighting spirit to rally after their 52-5 victory in the first O’Reilly Cup Test last Saturday in Christchurch.
Blindside flanker Emily Chancellor and recalled No.8 Grace Hamilton were workhorses in defense for the home side, while exciting young winger Bienne Terita scored twice on her debut and heralded herself as a star of the future.
In their last meeting before the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in October, where they were drawn against the hosts in the first round, the Wallaroos got off to a strong start, leading 7-0.
19-year-old Terita – a member of the World Series Sevens winning squad – opened the scoring with her 15-on-15 Test debut. She needed a second chance, however, as she threw a pass from Georgie Friedrichs over the try-line a minute earlier, but the Australians worked the ball wide again and this time Terita made no mistake.
Impressed by their decimation in the first Test, the Wallaroos showed their strength with some monster shots on defense and fast line speed that put the Kiwis under pressure. And the home side’s improved physicality turned early momentum in their direction as the Black Ferns lost center Chelsea Semple, who was KO’d trying to tackle support Liz Patu and also received a yellow card for head contact, leaving her team was down a player.
Despite winning the early clashes, Australia failed to capitalize on Australia as New Zealand fired a penalty and then led 15-7 at half-time after hooker Luka Connor toppled after a 10-phase build-up.
While the Wallaroos looked dangerous with the ball in hand, they struggled for possession or territory in the second half. Despite valiantly defending the goal-line and scattering several raids, the Kiwis made two crosses, through lock Joanah Ngan-Woo and then flanker Kendra Reynolds, to extend the lead to 22-7.
But instead of dropping their heads, the Aussies showed their fighting spirit, fighting to the last and igniting a final attacking move that allowed Terita to show her Sevens pace as she split the defense to touch down and den in the 80th minute Australians secure the deal with a bang despite the loss.
“It’s definitely an improved performance, but discipline let us down and we couldn’t keep possession in attack,” said captain Shannon Parry after the game. “Last week we were off the pace (on defence) but we corrected that today but we still dropped a few too many points.
“These are two things we will work on before the World Cup,” the skipper explained. “But a big thank you to Adelaide for hosting us and to the Black Ferns for stepping in. It was a fantastic spectacle of women’s rugby.”
The Women’s Rugby World Cup begins on October 8 in New Zealand.