World Rugby

Black Ferns Obliterate Wales To Reach Semifinals

Black Ferns Obliterate Wales To Reach Semifinals

On the biggest stage, Wales locked horns with reigning champions New Zealand in the World Cup quarterfinals and never really stood a chance.

Oct 31, 2022 by RugbyPass
Black Ferns Obliterate Wales To Reach Semifinals

International rugby can be a cruel game. On the biggest stage, with the spotlight tracking their every move, Wales locked horns with reigning champions New Zealand in the World Cup quarterfinals and never really stood a chance.

One nation, playing in black, had home advantage and years of experience at the very highest level. The other nation, emblazoned in red, was venturing into uncharted territory.

Less than a year ago, the Welsh Rugby Union announced they were offering 12 full-time professional contracts to pivotal players in the squad. The move was a welcomed one and indicated a genuine attempt to bolster women’s rugby at a national level and provide players with a financial incentive to view rugby as a profession, not just a past-time.

In the long run this will no doubt bear fruit, however, as with most things, change takes time. Wales may be in a better place now but, when facing off against the world’s best, they are still starkly reminded of how far off the top they are.

The game was a microcosm of this reality. Wales battled at the breakdown and caused New Zealand some problems, stifling their quick ball. The underdogs fought and did their best to disrupt the flow of the Black Ferns. In the end, they were outmatched, outgunned and outclassed.

Wales knew heading into the knockout fixture they needed career-best performances from essentially one to fifteen to even stand a chance. But in the end that was more a dream than a reasonable expectation. New Zealand, with a packed home crowd cheering them on, sailed into the semi-finals with a convincing 55-3 win in Whangarei.

Despite the disappointment, Wales captain Hannah Jones spoke candidly about her team’s performance, stating this is just the beginning of their journey.

“The side that they brought out tonight is outstanding. Their offloading game is outstanding. I couldn’t have asked more from the girls. We showed our best.

“You’ve got to realize we haven’t been professional for long. We’re just building and this is just the start, so we’re really excited for the future.”

The scores remained level for little over 10 minutes, at which point the Black Ferns crept into the Wales 22 before patiently building up phase play and unleashing the ball wide. Kendra Cocksedge took the early initiative, delivering a looping mis-pass to Theresa Fitzpatrick, misaligning the red defense. The centre drew a tackler and timed her tip-off to perfection, sending an onrushing Portia Woodman over the whitewash to break the deadlock.

The try was Woodman’s 19th in a World Cup, a stunning feat achieved in only eight games. It also drew her level with England’s Sue Day on the all-time record sheet.

The winger was instrumental in her side’s next score, recovering an under-hit cross-field kick before flinging the ball, all while being tackled, to Ruby Tui who darted over.

While Wales proved a nuisance at the breakdown, they had no response to the attacking menace of the Black Ferns and soon spaces started to emerge in the midfield. Once more the hosts pinned their northern hemisphere counterparts deep inside their 22, and just as before, they came away with points.

Back rower Sarah Hirini was the scorer on this occasion, bulldozing through two tackles to convert in the corner. An almost identical finish materialized ten minutes later when Amy Rule charged through two tacklers to cross the line from short-range.

With that, New Zealand entered the break carrying a healthy 26-3 lead, Wales’ only points coming from the boot of Keira Bevan.

Some teams, faced with a substantial lead, would ease off the pedal, but the Black Ferns are not most teams. With only two minutes played in the second period, the women in black produced a scintillating score, shifting the ball through the hands in an exhibition of attacking rugby.

The space out wide was manipulated as Woodman received a pass with the try-line gaping. The winger, needing no further incentive, sprinted over to claim her record-breaking 20th try to become the most prolific scorer in World Cup history.

And the tries didn’t stop there. Alana Bremner and Luka Connor used their brawn and power to get their names in contention, both converting from mere meters out, benefitting from earlier breaks made.  

Things got worse for Wales when centre Carys Williams-Morris saw yellow for a tip tackle on Tui on the hour mark. And yet the underdogs fought on, controlling bouts of possession until Connor crossed over for her second of the day.

Welsh replacement fly-half Lleucu George then became the second player to enter the bin, giving the Black Ferns an even greater advantage, as they went on to score nine tries in a convincing 55-3 win.

Defeat is never a nice feeling but Wales can exit the World Cup with their heads held high, proud of their exploits on the field. Head coach Ioan Cunningham was acutely aware of this and spared no time in praising his side after the game.

“I thought we fronted up physically in the first half. We can take a lot of confidence from this. For periods we competed with the best teams in the world,” he said.

“The scoreboard doesn't lie, the intensity and speed they can play at is somewhere we've got to get to. But I’ve got to be so proud of the girls’ efforts tonight, especially in that first half. We asked them to front up physically and I thought we really did. We hustled them and forced them to make errors so I’m really proud of the effort.”

New Zealand have now reached the semifinals for the sixth time in seven consecutive World Cups and are on a ten-game win streak on home soil. To maintain that record, they must overcome France, an imperious defensive force who will provide a tougher challenge than Wales.

For now, though, New Zealand can revel in the excitement their winning run is creating across their nation.

“I actually think it’s more fun than it looks,” Tui said after the game. 

"The team has been through so much and we just want to show not only New Zealand, but the World that women’s rugby is a product worth watching. We’ve all got our stories and we just want to entertain.”

Written by Stefan Frost