Sunday 22 April 2018

Wickliffe in starring role for box-office Black Ferns

New Zealand class sees off Welsh but second seeds' performance wasn't perfect - despite the scoreline

New Zealand's Selica Winiata. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand's Selica Winiata. Photo: Getty Images
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

They're already calling Pool A of this World Cup the 'Group of Death' and it was easy to see why after watching the Black Ferns beat Wales 44-12 in their opener at Billings Park yesterday.

They're ranked second and Canada are ranked third yet Welsh captain Carys Phillips optimistically preferred to call it the 'Group of Opportunity' beforehand and her side actually started brilliantly, holding New Zealand to 5-0 for 20 minutes.

For long periods they defended well against them, disrupted their set-pieces and, in particular, used their maul effectively, aping a tactic that England used so effectively when beating Glenn Moore's side in a warm-up series earlier this summer.

But from the moment sevens star Portia Woodman fired her turbo to round their defence and set up New Zealand's first try, Wales were subsumed by black wave after black wave as the southern hemisphere queens got their running game going.

It was 20-0 at half-time and 44-12 at the end; eight tries to two and only two of the winners' converted.

It took Wales a full 30 minutes to actually get into the opposition's 22 and it was just past the hour mark when Hannah Jones' great breakaway put Sioned Harries through for their first try and Melissa Clay's second came with just three minutes left.

New Zealand had already started to empty their bench in the 59th minute and lost scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on in the 67th, and among the first to be rested was brilliant winger Renee Wickliffe.

They had several Player of the Match contenders, like hat-trick hero Selica Winiata, their tiny full-back who may look like a twig but scorches the earth with every blistering run. Also catching the eye was prop Toka Natua and burly out-half Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, the woman who led the first 'Ko Uhia Mai' haka of this tournament.

Kelly Brazier, who once, famously, scored 64 points as a 19-year-old, lined out at centre but showed why she can also play out-half with one particularly marvellous kick-chase and flick-up which she then unselfishly off-loaded to Woodman for their fifth try.

But it was Wickliffe who deservedly won Player of the Match.

Her wrists were tightly bandaged and on one was written 'Kaia', the name of her four-year-old daughter.

She's the epitome of what we expect from New Zealand rugby; a blur of speed, fast hands, and no-look passes and scored two of their four first-half tries.

Did the Black Ferns look invincible? No, Wales disrupted their lineout and scrum at times, they never got any extended phase-play going and they'll be looking for a much better return from former World Player of the Year Cocksedge whose try conversion rate - two from seven - was extremely poor.

Asked to assess their performance, head coach Glenn Moore gave his team seven out of 10.

They're here on a mission and not just because Ireland killed their 'drive for five' dream in 2014.

They're second seeds but still the team everyone wants to see and injured Irish captain Niamh Briggs, international men's legends like Bernard Laporte, Bill Beaumont and Hugo McNeill plus Dublin football stars Paul Mannion and Michael Darragh Macauley were among yesterday's crowd.

Tickets for their final group game against Canada, on August 17, which looks likely to decide the 'fourth' semi-finalists, should be like gold-dust.

Irish Independent

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