New Zealand have put down a strong marker for the World Series with an impressive 4-1 win in a three-day series against Australia.
The five game series, in Bendigo, Victoria, was designed as an opportunity for the two squads to shake off the cobwebs, as well as try out a few rising stars – especially from Australia’s recent AON Uni series.
It began quite well for Australia, who won the opening game 14-12. The boot of Brooke Walker has proved the difference after Australian coach Tim Walsh threw two of his new Aon Uni 7s recruits - Lauren Brown and Katie Harrison - into the battle. New Zealand crossed first but tries to established players Staples and Du Toit, along with Walker's conversions, were enough to get the Australians over the line in a match Walsh summarised as "rusty".
But after that the Ferns showed why they are the world number one.
On day two Australia began with a team with just one established star - Brooke Walker- against a New Zealand side which also included mainly rising stars. The result was at timesa close game, but the Ferns took their opportunities and won 17-7, three tries to one.
But the day’s second day saw the Ferns call up the best team they could – and that team blitzed the Aussie 34-0 – despite a performance that was far from error-free.
“It wasn’t the fact NZ didn’t give us the ball”, said Walsh afterwards, “they had three kick-offs that didn’t go 10 and they turned over the ball. We just didn’t hold onto it long enough.
“Looking after the ball, working in threes, those things were lacking and when they turned it over, we were really off the pace with our defence, getting bumped off, beating on the outside and through the middle.”
Australia therefore had to win both of the day three games to win the series, but were beaten 26-7 and 28-14, despite the last match featuring Australia's strongest available team, albeit without six regular starters.
Although Walsh was clearly disappointed afterwards, he said his sides “never lose - they win or they learn.”
"Obviously we are here to win games”, he said, “but this was about seeing what we could get out of different combinations and testing some of the new girls against the world's best. The beauty of winning that first game (on day one) was that New Zealand rolled out some of their best players earlier than expected and that allowed us to test the girls. It's been a good few days."
"I'm really happy with where we're at," he continued. "Girls like Emma (Sykes) - we get to see what they can do over a full tournament, rather than just a few spurts off the bench.
“Then there was the testing of the girls that we have identified out of Aon (Uni 7s) series, giving them their first crack. We will definitely keep them involved all at some level, through different tiers of contracts - because they're all really talented girls."
Katie Harrison and Yasmin Meakes particularly impressed in the opening matches, they could be the names to watch for this season, and beyond.
With Emma Tonegato, Chloe Dalton, Ellia Green and Emilee Cherry Australia were not at full strength (though this applied to the Ferns as well) – so another New Zealand win in the WSWS is not quite a foregone conclusion yet.