2023 New Zealand vs USA - PAC 4

2023 Pacific Four Series Recap: With Stakes Raised, Black Ferns Rise Above

2023 Pacific Four Series Recap: With Stakes Raised, Black Ferns Rise Above

New Zealand's Black Ferns confirmed their place as the best women's rugby team as they defeated the USA, Canada and Australia in the Pacific 4 competition.

Jul 23, 2023 by Philip Bendon
2023 Pacific Four Series Recap: With Stakes Raised, Black Ferns Rise Above

New Zealand rugby has made a reputation off of rising to the occasion. 

And when what was on the line got increased in this year’s edition of the Pacific Four Series, the Black Ferns, like they have on so many other occasions before, elevated their game and accelerated themselves to the top of the pile. 

The recently-crowned Rugby World Cup winners had no summer hangover from the jubilation of winning the greatest prize in international rugby on home soil late this past year, rolling through the rest of the field at the P4S and getting ever closer to retaining a No. 1 world ranking for the first time in three years. 

Additionally, the Black Ferns and two others, due to their performances at the P4S, are off to play in the top division of a brand-new upcoming competition slated to provide another chance for the best of the best in women’s rugby to prove themselves against each other on a big stage. But if it’s anything like what New Zealand has repeatedly shown it can do over the past year — and many other years long before that — expect the world’s most successful rugby nation to be at the forefront among those leading the charge. 

Here’s a look back at the 2023 Pacific Four Series, with New Zealand taking home its second straight title in what’s been a blistering year as a whole for the Black Ferns: 

Roos Makes History as New Zealand Goes Back-to-Back 

The path of destruction that New Zealand women’s rugby has left over the past 13 months — made even more impressive by the fact that there was reasonable panic in the Black Ferns’ ranks following four consecutive defeats to close out the 2021 calendar year — has seen it win a World Cup, decimate most opposition and pick up the first two Pacific Four Series titles that have taken place with the competition’s current format. And if there were any concerns that new coach Allan Bunting wouldn’t be able to get the world champions up to speed this summer following the departures of World Cup-winning coach Wayne Smith and iconic player/all-time caps leader Kendra Cocksedge, consider those qualms quickly dealt with and taken care of. The Black Ferns rolled through rival Australia by a lopsided 50-0 scoreline in their P4S opener — New Zealand’s biggest blowout of its Trans-Tasman adversary since 2016 — then scored three tries in the first 20 minutes of a critical second game against Canada in Ottawa, quickly putting the host and No. 4-ranked women’s side in the world in a hole as both Amy du Plessis and Mererangi Paul had braces in an eight-try display and 52-21 victory. Things got a bit shaky in the finale against the United States as the Eagles surprisingly led 17-5 at halftime, but New Zealand didn’t waver, scoring 34 unanswered points the rest of the way under the captaincy of 21-year-old Maiakawanakaulani Ross (who became the youngest Black Fern ever to wear the armband) to finish the 2023 P4S as perfect champions — three wins, three bonus points — for the second straight year. 

Canada Has Some Fun in Front of Home Fans 

Until further notice, Canada is the most prevalent, dominant force in international women’s rugby in the Americas, and after a fourth-place finish in the World Cup and taking powerful England to the brink in the semifinals, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before the Canucks shove themselves into the upper echelon of the sport for good, even while considering the strength of the elites of the elite. Coach Kevin Rouet’s side placed runner-up to the Black Ferns for the second consecutive year and did so this summer while playing its latter two matches of the competition in front of fervent support at the TD Place Stadium in the nation’s capital, Ottawa. The world champions ultimately proved too powerful for the Canadians to stop in their penultimate game of the P4S, but against the Wallaroos in the closer, Canada let loose and celebrated a milestone moment with a blistering display. Lock Tyson Beukeboom — a legendary figure in the national side, having been part of the Canada team that took second in the 2014 RWC — marked her 60th cap for her country (second all-time) against Australia by scoring a hat trick, the first in her career, after touching down in the 35th, 51st and 68th minutes in the home side’s 45-7 rout to clinch second place in the table. Sophie de Goede added a pair of tries on top of it — finishing as the P4S’ top scorer in the process with 41 points in all in the tournament — and though Canada likely would’ve preferred if their neighbours to the south had held on for a mammoth upset against New Zealand and, therefore, a greater chance at taking the top spot, it still firmly reaffirmed itself to the rest of the world as the top dog on this side of the planet in women’s rugby. 

What Does it All Mean for WXV? 

For the first time this year, placing in the Pacific Four Series had another meaning; the competition served as a qualification route for the upcoming and inaugural WXV tournament, a group-based league due to begin play in October. The three divisions — WXV 1, WXV 2 and WXV 3 — correspond in decreasing order to their strength and will be played in different countries (New Zealand, South Africa and the UAE, respectively), with the top-tier sides playing in WXV 1 and so on from there, and the 2023 P4S played a critical role in determining which national sides would be going to which groups. In WXV 1, qualification was determined by which three teams finished in the top three of the P4S and the Women’s Six Nations, leaving a loaded division of the current top six-ranked teams in the world — England, New Zealand, France, Canada, Australia and Wales — after all matches were played and the dust was settled. That left the fourth-placed United States as the odd nation out from the P4S as the Eagles were routed to WXV 2 due to their finish, leaving them in a very different scenario with potential obstacles that their counterparts in WXV 1 won’t have to face. For instance, WXVs 2 and 3 will participate in a yearly promotion and relegation system between them in which the top-finishing side in WXV 3 (after all pool-play matches are completed) will replace the last-placed nation in WXV 2 for the next season, meaning that if the U.S. doesn’t get out on the right foot immediately, it could be in trouble — all while those in WXV 1 will not have to worry about relegation. International women’s rugby is taking strides and quickly growing in popularity, and with its increased stature, the stakes get raised with the amount of eyeballs, too.