World Rugby

World Cup Front-Runners New Zealand And England Open With Wins

World Cup Front-Runners New Zealand And England Open With Wins

England and New Zealand are the front-runners in this year's Rugby World Cup. They both picked up wins on the opening day of rugby's biggest competition.

Oct 11, 2022 by RugbyPass
World Cup Front-Runners New Zealand And England Open With Wins

England and New Zealand are the two front-runners in this year's Rugby World Cup, and they laid bare their dominance with big wins on the opening day of rugby's biggest competition.

Both experienced uncharacteristically wobbly starts but managed to rekindle their sparks and run out deserved victors, with the Black Ferns toppling rival Australia, 41-17, while the Red Roses stormed to a record-breaking 84-19 win over newcomer, Fiji.

There still is a long way to go in the competition, and so, for the time being, the focus will be on the unprecedented number of people flocking to see international women's rugby.

Five-time winner New Zealand is on hosting duties and saw a record crowd at a packed out Eden Park on the opening day of competition.

The stadium last hosted a World Cup final in 2011, when the All Blacks reclaimed their world title, and the Black Ferns will hope something similar plays out in the coming weeks.

They are, in truth, the reigning champions, having beaten England 41-32 to take the crown back in 2017.

But despite having home advantage, New Zealand will not enter the tournament as the favorite. That title is bestowed upon England, which is in red-hot form, riding a 25-game winning streak.

As part of that run, the Red Roses picked up a pair of wins over the Black Ferns last Autumn, blowing them apart 43-12, before backing up that statement win with another 56-15 bashing in early November.

As the curtain was raised at Eden Park, all that doubt fell away. 

The Black Ferns, in front of a rapturous audience, delivered a poignant and powerful haka that spoke of a nation's dream for silverware.

Sometimes though, the occasion can eat away at a team, and it looked as though New Zealand would befall that fate when they slumped early, conceding 17 unanswered points to the Wallaroos - a team they had never lost to in test rugby - after an in-form Brienne Terita danced her way over the line for an early double.

With the alarm bells ringing, and the eyes of New Zealand glaring down on them, the players remained calm, rallied and managed to scrape back 12 points before the close of the first half. 

They then dialed up the quality, exhibiting some scintillating attacking play, as they ran away the 41-17 victors.

Star wingers Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman both shined, combining for five tries. Tui was also named player of the match, not just for her try haul, but for the hard work she put into marshaling the Black Ferns defense.

"I've been in that position way too many times," Tui said after the game. "The Aussie-New Zealand rivalry is something you can't script. It is something special, to be honest. I know it is not the national sport there, so I always have respect for them growing the game over there and bringing it to us. It was awesome.

"We have had to grow pretty quick in this team, and what I think that does is it force you to bring out your best, because if you don't, someone else will step up. There is pretty hot competition in our team right now."

Black Ferns head coach Wayne Smith was pleased with his side's durability, but he admitted the prospect of playing in front of a packed stadium unsettled some of his troops.

"I think it was overwhelming for a lot of the players," Smith said. "A lot of them hadn't been at a World Cup, certainly not in a game like this. It was like no other. 

"The first half, I think, was a reflection of that, and there were some concerns around how we prepared individually for the game. We seemed to be frenetic and not at our best, but we had a really good halftime. Nice and calm and nice and specific and, credit to the girls, they came out and put their game on the park.

Smith and the team will learn from the contest.

"We got out-muscled in the first half, and you can't hide from that," Smith said. "We were not in the contest, nowhere near it, and that's a concern in terms of the way we prepared."

Fellow finals hopeful England kickstarted its trophy hunt with a mammoth win over tournament newcomer, Fiji.

But it was not all plain sailing for England, as the pace of Fiji's play challenged an England team often adept at blunting the tools of its opponent. That's not to say the Red Roses struggled, but rather looked less convincing as they headed into the break with a surprisingly narrow 24-14 lead.

Then, their class shined through in the second period, as they ran in 10 further tries to win 84-19, clinching a tournament try record in the process.

One of the stars of the show was young back rower Sadia Kabeya, who came into the team to replace the injured Marlie Packer. The absence of the Saracens juggernaut would have crippled many teams, but the 20-year-old filled in impeccably, carrying for 71 meters - more than any other England forward - and beating five defenders.

After the game, England coach Simon Middleton commended the versatility of Fiji, which was playing in its first World Cup match.

"One thing this has shown is that there are going to be absolutely no gimmes in this competition," Middleton told England Rugby's official website. "Fiji was outstanding in that first half, really compact and really physical. I think we were nervous, but who wouldn't be? It wasn't like we were being pumped at halftime, we were still 24-14 up, but I think we would've hoped we'd done a few things a little bit better, but we did better in the second half for sure."

Claudia MacDonald was the headline act, scoring a stunning four tries, but fellow back and Wasps winger Abby Dow deserves equal plaudits for scoring a try on her return, having suffered a broken leg back in April during the Six Nations.

"We're so pleased for her, she's had such a tough journey back, but she's worked tirelessly along with our medical department, in particular Emily Ross, who has invested loads of time into her. All of us, all the teammates, were absolutely thrilled for her," Middleton said.

England will return to the field next Saturday to face Six Nations rivals France, which beat South Africa in its tournament opener, while New Zealand will take on Wales on Sunday. 

Written by Stefan Frost