New Zealand have won the World Rugby Pacific Four Series at the first attempt.

Having missed out on the inaugural competition in 2021, won by Canada, the Black Ferns rounded off a successful two weeks with a title-clinching 50-6 victory against the USA in Whangarei on Saturday.

It completed a clean sweep of wins for the reigning world champions following earlier successes against Australia (23-10) and Canada (28-0).

Canada, the next highest-ranked team in the tournament, finished runners-up after they defeated Australia 22-10 in their final fixture.

USA came third after edging out Australia in round two for their only win of the campaign, with the winless Wallaroos propping up the table. 

Launched last year as a two-team event featuring the two North American sides, the World Rugby Pacific Four Series 2022 has given all the participants much-needed competitive game time before they come back to New Zealand in October and November for the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup 2021 along with eight other top nations.

Last year, USA and Canada competed in the streamlined inaugural event in Glendale, Colorado, playing each other twice last November. Canada came out on top 15-9 and 26-13.

As well as being an invaluable stepping stone toward Rugby World Cup 2021, the Pacific Four Series is also one of the principal annual qualification routes for the top tier of WXV, with the top three-placed teams competing in WXV 1 and the fourth-placed team competing in WXV 2 from 2023 onwards.

Round Three in review

Ayesha Leti-l'iga scored a hat-trick as the Black Ferns put in a strong performance to beat the USA 50-6 and claim the title.

Despite some set-piece struggles and an error count higher than they would have liked, the Black Ferns still managed to take the win.

And to score eight tries and keep the opposition out at the other end will have given them plenty of confidence leading into August's two-test series against Australia and then Rugby World Cup 2021.

The Black Ferns were up and running as early as the second minute when Leti-l'iga crossed for the first of her three scores. 

Megan Foster's penalty got the USA on the board a couple of minutes later and she kicked a second just before the half-hour mark but, by then, the hosts had added two more tries through Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and Leti-l'iga.

The Black Ferns then closed out the first half with a couple more scores, Renee Holmes converting her own try before Sylvia Brunt crossed for her first test try on the stroke of half-time.

Excellent footwork from Kendra Reynolds gave the hosts their sixth try in the 51st minute before Leti-l'iga ran in her hat-trick try from 30 metres out as the final quarter approached.

Krystal Murray was sent to the sin-bin six minutes from time for a dangerous tackle but the Black Ferns still managed one more try through Renee Wickliffe. A stunning touchline conversion from Hazel Tubic brought up the half-century. 

In the first match of the day, it was another tale of what might have been for Australia as they failed to capitalise on a strong start.

The Wallaroos hit the ground running and led 10-0 after just 13 minutes thanks to a try from hooker Ashley Marsters and a penalty and conversion from the boot of Lori Cramer.

But as the wind picked up and the heavens opened, Canada took a grip on proceedings and started to claw their way back into the contest.

After long periods in defence, Australia finally succumbed to the pressure and conceded a try to hooker Emily Tuttosi just before the break, captain Sophie de Goede converting for a half-time score of 10-7.

When half-back Justine Pelletier shot over for a second try four minutes into the second half, Canada had the lead and never looked back.

A De Goede penalty made it 15-10 with 15 minutes left but the game remained in the balance until prop Madison Schuck's yellow card reduced Australia to 14 players and tipped the balance further in Canada's favour. 

A third and final Canadian pick-and-go try four minutes from time by replacement forward Alexandria Ellis finished off the scoring.

Round two in review

In contrast to their opening game when they led the Black Ferns 10-0, Australia found themselves playing catch-up rugby throughout their contest against the USA.

The Women's Eagles surged into a 16-0 lead with nearly an hour played thanks to a try from Hope Rogers and 11 points from the boot of Gabby Cantorna. But Australia pushed them all the way with a terrific fightback in the final quarter and converted tries from Georgina Friedrichs and Ashley Marsters brought them to within two points only for time to run out.

While by no means perfect, New Zealand's coaches will take some encouragement from the way their team dominated a big Canadian side physically in laying the platform for a bonus-point win in the second game of the day.

It took a while for the Blacks Ferns to get going, with just two penalties from Hazel Tubic, in her first test start at fly-half, separating the sides at half-time.

However, the hosts turned on the style in the second half and two tries from Ruby Tui and scores from Maiakawanakaulani Roos and Chelsea Bremner saw them to a relatively comfortable 28-0 win, despite the loss of a player in each half to the sin-bin.

Round one in review

Shorn of a host of players due to their involvement in the English Premier 15s final, USA were always going to find it tough against a higher-ranked Canadian team that has dominated them in recent years. And so it proved.

Despite replying to an early Canada try with one of their own, the Women’s Eagles were on the back foot for the majority of the contest, the strong Canadian pack relishing the wet conditions and putting the squeeze on their opponents.

Sophie de Goede led the team brilliantly from the back of the pack but it was Olivia DeMerchant and Pamphinette Buisa who did the damage on the scoreboard with a brace of tries apiece in a 36-5 win for the Rugby World Cup 2014 runners-up.

All in all, it was a satisfactory start to Kevin Rouet’s tenure as head coach.

In the second match of the day, Kendra Cocksedge became the most-capped Black Fern in history when she won her 58th test cap, against Australia.

Cocksedge’s big occasion was in danger of being ruined by the Wallaroos who used their forward superiority to good effect to open up a 10-0 first-half lead. But the tactical changes the Black Ferns made at half-time worked and they rallied to reel off 23 unanswered points.

Winger Ayesha Leti-I’iga helped herself to a brace of tries and outstanding debutant Kaipo Olsen-Baker capped a player of the match performance with a try in a stirring second-half comeback.

Pacific Four Series 2022 results and fixtures

Monday, 6 June – KO 12:15 local time  
Canada 36-5 USA 
Tauranga Domain, Tauranga

Monday, 6 June – KO 14:45 local time 
New Zealand 23-10 Australia
Tauranga Domain, Tauranga

Sunday, 12 June – KO 12:15 local time  
USA 16-14 Australia
The Trusts Arena, Waitakere, Auckland 

Sunday, 12 June – KO 14:45 local time  
Canada 0-28 New Zealand
The Trusts Arena, Waitakere, Auckland 

Saturday, 18 June – KO 13:30 local time
Australia 10-22 Canada
Semenoff Stadium, Whangarei   

Saturday, 18 June – KO 16:00 local time
New Zealand 50-6 USA  
Semenoff Stadium, Whangarei