The Wallaroos are still winless against New Zealand but earned back some respect with a much-improved performance at Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
The Australian women fell to a 22-14 defeat – their 22nd in succession – but at least showed healthy doses of their fighting spirit to rally after their 52-5 thrashing in the first O’Reilly Cup Test in Christchurch last Saturday.
Blindside flanker Emily Chancellor and recalled No 8 Grace Hamilton were workhorses in defence for the home side while exciting young winger Bienne Terita scored two tries on debut and announced herself as a star of the future.
In their last hit-out before the October Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, where they have been drawn to meet the hosts in the first round, the Wallaroos got off to a strong start to lead 7-0.
Making her 15-a-side Test debut, 19-year-old Terita – a member of the World Series-winning Sevens squad – opened the scoring. She needed a second chance though, spilling a Georgie Friedrichs pass over the tryline a minute prior but the Australians again worked the ball wide and this time Terita made no mistake.
Stung by their decimation in the first Test, the Wallaroos showed their steel with some monster hits in defence and fast line-speed putting the Kiwis under pressure. And the home side’s improved physicality swung the early momentum their way as the Black Ferns lost centre Chelsea Semple, who was knocked out trying to tackle prop Liz Patu was also yellow-carded for the head contact, leaving her team a player down.
However, despite winning the early collisions, Australia were unable to take advantage with New Zealand booting a penalty and then taking a 15-7 lead into half-time after hooker Luka Connor crashed over after a 10-phase build-up.
While the Wallaroos looked dangerous with ball in hand they struggled to get any possession or territory in the second half. Despite valiant goal-line defence diffusing several raids, the Kiwis crossed twice, through lock Joanah Ngan-Woo and then flanker Kendra Reynolds to extend the lead to 22-7.
But instead of dropping their heads the Australians showed their fighting spirit, fighting to the last and sparking a last-ditch attacking move that allowed Terita to show her Sevens pace as she split the defence to touch down in the 80th minute and ensure the Australians finished with a bang despite the loss.
“It’s definitely an improved performance but discipline let us down and we couldn’t hold onto possession in attack,” captain Shannon Parry said after the game. “Last week we were off the pace (in defence) but we corrected that today, however, we still let up a couple too many points.
“They are two things we’ll work on heading into the World Cup,” the skipper reasoned. “but massive thanks to Adelaide for hosting us and the Black Ferns for making their way over, it’s been a fantastic spectacle of women’s Rugby.”
The Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks off in New Zealand on October 8.