Mererangi Paul enjoyed a debut to remember as New Zealand began their World Rugby Pacific Four Series title defence with a 50-0 defeat of Australia at Kayo Stadium.
Chiefs Manawa winger Paul marked her first test appearance by scoring two of the Black Ferns’ seven tries in Brisbane, in front of a record crowd for a standalone women’s test in Australia of 7,055.
Tanya Kalounivale had scored the first try of the match, while the Mastercard Player of the Match Sylvia Brunt also crossed the whitewash twice, and Chelsea Bremner, Alana Bremner and debutant Iritana Hohaia added second-half scores.
Victory not only means the Black Ferns retain the O’Reilly Cup for another year but the margin it was secured by ensures they travel to Canada for the second and third rounds of the Pacific Four Series atop the standings, ahead of the North Americans on points difference.
“There’s definitely been a change of personnel and I’m sure myself, the girls and the coaches are extremely proud of our debutants,” Black Ferns co-captain Ruahei Demant said.
“While there has been a change in personnel we have firmly established the Black Ferns style and way we like to play, and that definitely hasn’t changed.”
Wallaroos captain for the night Michaela Leonard thanked the large crowd for its support despite the result and vowed to come out stronger in Canada next Saturday.
“It was just the execution of the little skills,” Leonard said about the reasons for the loss. “It’s a long series so we’ll definitely come out firing for the next two [rounds].”
The Wallaroos scored first in three of their four meetings with the Black Ferns last year and built a 17-0 lead against them at Rugby World Cup 2021, so it was no surprise that they started on the front foot in Brisbane.
However, Australia were unable to turn possession and territory into points and it was the RWC 2021 winners who opened the scoring in the 11th minute, as tight-head prop Kalounivale powered over from a lineout move.
Kalounivale’s intervention appeared to spark her side into life and New Zealand extended their advantage 13 minutes later when Brunt went over. Renee Holmes converted for a second time to give the Black Ferns a 14-0 lead.
Australia did put their visitors under pressure in the aftermath of that try, Carys Dallinger giving Holmes some difficulty with a smart kick in behind.
But Brunt and the Black Ferns were enjoying themselves by now and the young centre took advantage of some good New Zealand phase play to score from close range with less than seven minutes of the first half remaining.
Holmes converted again and then played a crucial role in her side’s fourth try, producing the perfect delayed pass to put Paul into space out wide. The right winger still had a lot of work to do, though, chipping ahead and showing good pace to beat Australia full-back Faitala Moleka to the bouncing ball, and mark her debut with a try.
Paul and New Zealand picked up where they left off at the start of the second half. Following a barnstorming run from Liana Mikaele-Tu’u off the base of a scrum, Holmes shovelled the ball to the winger who scored her second try.
Mikaele-Tu’u was then denied a try of her own, due to an earlier knock-on, but the Black Ferns would breach the Wallaroos try-line for a sixth time in the 55th minute as Chlesea Bremner burrowed over from close range.
Holmes added the extras, to make the score 38-0, and although Australia began to spend more time in the Black Ferns half following the introduction of fly-half Arabella McKenzie, New Zealand added late tries through Alana Bremner and replacement scrum-half Hohaia.
New Zealand and Australia will both travel to Ottawa, Canada over the coming days, where the second and third rounds of the 2023 Pacific Four Series will be staged at TD Place Stadium.
Round two kicks off at 16:00 local time (GMT-4) on 8 July, as Australia taken on the USA before the Black Ferns meet Canada at 19:00 local time. The tournament will conclude six days later, when New Zealand play the Women's Eagles and Canada face the Wallaroos.