The second placed Kiwi Ferns took on bottom team Cook Islands in the first match of a Group B double header in the women’s World Cup at York’s LNER Community Stadium.
The Kukis lost 74-0 to Australia last time out, which made New Zealand the clear favourites in this encounter that saw Cooks players Karaitiana and Terehia Matua both named to line up against their aunt Krystal Rota, who captained the Ferns.
The Kukis took to the field knowing they had never beaten the Ferns, the four-time World Cup champions.
The game got off to a fiery start with with a stoppage in the second minute as Cooks player Kimiora Breayley-Nati was left flat out and had to leave the field following a misjudged tackle.
The Kukis responded with a determined period of play, tackling and advancing the ball with determination and forcing errors in the New Zealand team.
But despite that Dally M medallist Raecene McGregor opened the scoring after 10 minutes when she chose an unstoppable line and ran through to score the match’s first try. Laishon Albert-Jones couldn’t kick the conversion and the score stood at 4-0.
Kiwi captain Krystal Rota added four more points after quarter of an hour, bursting through from first receiver on theft and dotting down in the corner. Again, the try couldn’t be converted and the the Ferns led 8-0.
As the pre-match rain returned in force to add another difficulty for handling, as New Zealand discovered with an attempted offload in the Kuki 20.
But the Ferns were dominating with the game played largely in the Cook Island half. The Kiwis continued to press in the Cooks’ half and when Amber Hall ran onto a pass 10m out, the next Ferns try was inevitable, moving the score to 12-0 with half an hour gone.
Kicking duties moved to Brianna Clark who made no mistake from just to the right of the posts and took the score to 14-0.
But the Cooks hit back and threatened to notch up their first ever score against the Ferns with a dangerous set in their opponents’ 10m zone. Unfortunately, it came to nothing, and New Zealand pressed again, moving the ball out to the powerful Male Hufanga, who was stopped just short of the line.
The Cooks defence held for the rest of the half, though and the hooter blew on the 14-0 scoreline, after a balanced half in terms of tackles, play-the-balls and sets, if not of points on the board.
When the match restarted, Cook Islands pressed the Kiwi line on the back of a penalty for dissent - but again, couldn’t convert the pressure into points. The loss of their co-captain and stand-off at the start of the game was telling on their organisation.
The Cooks got another chance when New Zealand full back Shanice Parker knocked on collecting a high kick - but once more couldn’t get the points, losing the ball as they tried to crash over early in the set.
Both teams had played almost 15 minutes without a point being scored before Raecene McGregor crashed over from dummy half. Albert-Jones returned to kicking dutiies but once again, failed to add the extras.
The Ferns surged forward through Raecene McGregor again on the next set, but dropped the ball themselves, when Albert-Jones couldn’t take in a pass on the left. But the pressure did pay off as the 60-minute mark came up Hufanga running clear in the corner for a 22-0 lead. Albert-Jones conversion attempt fell short.
To add to the Kukis woes, the Ferns raced away from a quick tap after a kick went dead, and when Maleyna Hunapo lay in the tackle too long as her team-mates struggled to get back onside and was sent for a 10-minute rest in the bin.
But then … the short-handed Cook Island charged forward on the next set, Kerehitina Matua found herself being forced wide as she ran the ball toward the Kiwi line and kicked ahead. Mackenzie Wiki – daughter of Ruben – raced in to dot it down in the corner and the Cooks had scored their first points ever against New Zealand. Matua lined up to kick from the touchline, but had the same problems as New Zealand. The score stayed at 22-4.
The Ferns hit back, powering up on the right and getting the ball to Hufanga for her to score her second try on debut. Clark was back kicking and the successful conversion meant the Kiwis led 28-4.
In the final minutes New Zealand stepped up and increased the pressure on the Kukis’ line, with repeat sets and a tapped penalty for a head-high tackle on Raecene McGregor leading to a try by Annetta Nu’uausala in the final minute. Clark’s conversion after the hooter gave a final score of 34-4.
New Zealand Ferns: Parker; Hufanga (2T), Ormong-Maunsell, P McGregor, Bartlett; Albert-Jones, R McGregor (2T); Hill-Moana, Rota (T), Nu’uausala (T) Pule, Hall (T), Scanlan. Subs: Maynard, Clark (3G), Tamarua, Stowers.
Cook Islands: Tuaana; Tatuava, Tumu-Makara, Rongokea, Wiki (T); Reayley-Nati, K Matua; Tanavesi, Stephens, Mgatupuna, Kitai, Tupou-Witchman, Walton. Subs: Mo’ale, Harrison-Vahua, Matua, Hunapo (Y63)
Full Time: 34-4
Half Time: 14-0
Score Progression: 4-0, 8-0, 12-0, 14-0. HT. 18-0, 22-0, 22-4, 26-4, 28-4, 32-4, 34-4. FT.
Lead: New Zealand.
Referree: Michael Smaill
Attendance: ? at the LNER Stadium, York.