New Zealand’s five-time World Cup champions were forced to come from behind to sink the brave Wallaroos 23-10 in the rain and mud of Tauranga today.
It was a highly encouraging display from the Wallaroos who deservedly led 10-5 to the 49-minute mark against the No.2-ranked nation in women's rugby.
Beating the Black Ferns is still one of the uncharted frontiers of Australian sport as it was until the Masters and Tour de France were finally captured.
Wallaroos fans dared to dream that the streak of 19 straight losses since 1994 might finally come to an end when the Australians dominated the first half.
Instead, the Wallaroos will have to wait for another chance on the grand stage of Auckland’s Eden Park on October 8 when they duel with the Black Ferns on the opening night of the Rugby World Cup for women.
“We’ll take a lot of confidence from matching it with them for 60 minutes in what were typical NZ rugby conditions that we don't experience that often in Australia,” Wallaroos captain Shannon Parry said.
“A bit of fatigue did set in but if we can match it for 60, we should be able to match them for 80 minutes-plus.
“These are all stepping stones to where we want to get to as a team at the World Cup at the end of the year.
“We really nailed our lineouts (early) but not so as the game went on so, yeah, there are things to improve on.”
Added Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning: “We want that first ever win against them.”
The Wallaroos were superb in the first half, especially the forwards, when playing in wintery, slippery Kiwi conditions.
The scrum powered ahead to win a tighthead after 15 minutes and it was unfortunate hooker Adiana Talakai was forced off with a knee injury after 20 minutes.
It was emblematic of the early dominance by the forwards as a unit. The backrow trio of Emily Chancellor, captain Parry and Grace Hamilton were excellent.
Parry earned two penalties at the breakdown with her timing to thrust hands onto Kiwi ball was not protected well enough.
Centre Georgie Friedrichs did the same expertly at the 10-minute mark to give the Wallaroos good field position with a penalty.
A wave of pick-and-drives hammered at the Blacks Ferns’ defence until prop Liz Patu produced one of her close-to-the-line specials. She bulldozed over with prop Bridie O’Gorman latched onto her muddied jersey.
Fullback Lori Cramer knocked over the conversion and a penalty goal midway through the first half to establish a 10-0 lead.
The Wallaroos had set the tone even before kick-off when they assembled, arm-in-arm, in the shape of a boomerang to confront the haka.
When they advanced to the halfway line to accept the warrior challenge of the haka, you knew the Australians were up for it.
The Australian defence was willing as it needed to be to put unaccustomed pressure on the Black Ferns.
One Chancellor tackle forced a turnover, Mahalia Murphy made a good scrambling tackle, the headgeared Parry made another in cover defence and the impressive Friedrichs was rock solid in the wide channels.
The Black Ferns lifted after half-time and fatigue was showing in the Wallaroos before a raft of substitutions at the 55-minute mark.
The Black Ferns scrum started to buckle the Australian scrum, replacement hooker Ashley Marsters lost her lineout throwing radar when playing the last hour and clean ball dried up.
The Aussie commitment in defence kept things close. Kiwi flanker Alana Bremner dived over on the blindside when alert halfback Kendra Cocksedge directed play that way.
That 10-all position remained until the 53rd minute when the constant pressure told. New Zealand No.8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker bullocked to the shortside off the back of a scrum, shrugged off Chancellor and Evania Wong and scored.
That 18-10 scoreline would have been the right reflection of the match but impressive winger Ayesha Leti-I'iga went over for her second try on full-time.
Prop Bridie O’Gorman willingly shouldered a big workload and Patu had high impact while lineout general Michaela Leonard, Hamilton and Parry went the full 80.
Replacement forward Piper Duck made a good run and a fine cover tackle in her time off the bench.
Lock Annabelle Codey and back Cecilia Smith, on the wing, enjoyed debuts for the Wallaroos in the closing stages.
NEW ZEALAND 23 (A Leti-I'iga 2, A Bremner, K Olsen-Baker tries; H Cocksedge pen goal) bt AUSTRALIA 10 (L Patu try; L Cramer con, pen goal)
BLACK FERNS V WALLAROOS TEAMS
BLACK FERNS (1-15): Krystal Murray, Georgia Ponsonby, Amy Rule, Maiakawanakaulani Roos, Chelsea Bremner, Alana Bremner, Kendra Reynolds, Kaipo Olsen-Baker, Kendra Cocksedge, Ruahei Demant (c), Ayesha Leti-I’iga, Chelsea Semple, Kelsey Teneti, Ruby Tui, Renee Holmes
RESERVES: Luka Connor, Angel Mulu, Tanya Kalounivale, Joanah Ngan-Woo, Tafito Lafaele, Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, Hazel Tubic, Cheyelle Robins-Reti
WALLAROOS (1-15): Liz Patu, Adiana Talakai, Bridie O'Gorman, Michaela Leonard, Kaitlan Leaney, Emily Chancellor, Shannon Parry (c), Grace Hamilton, Iliseva Batibasaga, Trilleen Pomare, Ivania Wong, Pauline Piliae-Rasabale, Georgina Friedrichs, Mahalia Murphy, Lori Cramer
RESERVES: Ashley Marsters, Madison Schuck, Eva Karpani, Annabelle Codey, Piper Duck, Layne Morgan, Cecilia Smith, Arabella McKenzie