Source: Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

A Look Back at the Pacific Four Series

  • +1

How is the WXV looking?

On almost every front the recently completed Pacific-4 Series in New Zealand must be counted a success. World Rugby can look back with pride and some relief to see the first full outing of its new baby, the WXV, pass off so successfully.

Only the weather failed to behave itself, two of the rounds suffering heavy rain.

From the playing point of view all looked most encouraging. The four competing nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA, had suffered badly from the effects of the pandemic. That alone made the chance to play three top-class test matches in three weeks such a delight.

The results went according to expectations, though not necessarily the margins of victory. It is fortunate for the success of the tournament that the four competitors all sit in the top eight in world rankings:

England 96.78
New Zealand 89.57
France 87.91
Canada 87.17
USA 77.64
Italy 76.69
Ireland 76.33
Australia 75.68

Their region is denoted as ‘Pacific’, but ‘Pacific Rim’ might be fairer, since important rugby-playing nations sit firmly inside the Pacific, but don’t find a place here.

Apart from the WXV, the Pac-4 was designed to help the build-up to this autumn’s World Cup (RWC). This was immensely beneficial to the managements in allowing them to assess the competing qualities of their squads before making final choices. The three visiting nations are all handicapped by their vast size. Rob Cain (USA) stressed how useful it was to see all his top choices playing together. He, even more than Kevin Rouet (Canada), had many players based in England, so needed to check them over on special visits.

The Four Nations (results below)

New Zealand

All New Zealand can breathe a sigh of relief. The Black Ferns’ standard of play in all three games was way ahead of anything seen in Europe last autumn. Yet many of the players appeared in both. Only here back home they played with a smile on their face.

Much of the credit must go to the new coaching staff and the people who invited them in, the much maligned NZR. Never before have previous (coaching) winners of men’s world cups (Wayne Smith and Sir Graham Henry) been called up to lead the women’s team.

The advance in playing systems was evident; if the line-out was still an area of uncertainty, that was true of every team; let’s blame the weather.

Smith wanted his team to play without fear. In Round one they finished only 13 points ahead of the notionally weakest team, the Wallaroos, using a starting Fifteen that contained many names from the last tour.

But he was happy to make nine changes to face the strongest opposition, the Maple Leafs, and the new side rewarded him with a decisive shut-out.

For me, the most important selection was delayed till Round 3, introducing Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu in place of Kendra Cocksedge at half-back. You have to wonder whether Cocksedge might not have remained at her sharpest if she hadn’t been an almost certain starter for so long. AM-T’s performance in the rain won the PotM award, ahead even of Ayesha Leti-I’iga (just the three tries this time). Competition for places is the recipe for success.


The Maple Leafs were the one nation not to live up to expectations. They lost only once, to the Black Ferns, but their failure to score against them stood out. Both Australia and USA did.

Kevin Rouet made a strong call in asking Sophie De Goede to skipper the side. She might well be called the Player of the Tournament, she was twice voted PoTM. But it was a big challenge, playing No 8, taking most of the ball at line-outs and the kicks at goal. She succeeded splendidly, but overall the team may feel they didn’t do themselves justice .

First up they met the USA for the third time in a year. Though both had players held back in England, USA were far worse off. The margin, 36-5, was comfortable, though helped by the odd interception try.

The pack was less dominant than I expected it to be; in the last match they found the Wallaroos quite a handful.


They finished just ahead of Australia in the tightest finish of the series, and put up a stout first-half fight against the champions.

It will be fascinating to see how far Cain can advance their cause before the RWC. They have so many inbuilt handicaps: most pick up the game late in life; they play very few tests; they hardly ever train together.

It’s to their credit that they finished ahead of a robust Wallaroos side. This was the one real ding-dong of their series, the Eagles hanging on at the end by two points after establishing a 16-0 lead.

Their back play lags behind the forward skills. It was a surprise to see how much harder Alev Kelter had to work than usual, and her centre partner Katana Howard also shone less brightly than expected.

There’s no doubt the England-based players have profited mightily from their exposure to the Prem 15s, but the squad will do well to repeat the heroics of the 2017 campaign.


The Wallaroos were in a similar position to the Eagles, but started from even further back. These were their first tests in three years, and they had come together for a first squad session only a few months earlier. They had plenty to say up front, and once Arabella Mckenzie was introduced in midfield, they had a player who could place them in advantageous positions with a single strike of the boot.

They played with the athleticism you would expect from that sporting nation, but they have precious little time to up their game before they return to New Zealand.


Nobody was heard commenting on the absence of so many American and Canadian players from Round One. They were all caught up in the Exeter Chiefs v Saracens final of the Premier 15s back in England.

This was the old dilemma of Club v Country, which till now has rarely troubled women’s rugby. When De Goede opted to stay in Canada to lead her side to victory in their university final, every Canadian understood – those games matter intensely. But it meant she was missing from the squad that played in Europe last autumn.

But this recent clash is rather different. Both the Pacific-4 and the WXV are of distinct importance in the new calendar – and the intervening RWC even more so. How many of the finalists in Worcester felt a pang of regret that they weren’t down under? None?

And one more absence in Round 3 takes us back to a well-known dilemma, 7s or 15s? Ruby Tui was called away to prepare with the Black Ferns 7s squad for their World Cup in South Africa. It made no difference to the result in Whangarei, but reduces Tui’s experience of international 15s standards by one. Her very first was in this series.

Media Coverage

In line with latest advances World Rugby offered every match on its You tube channel. Inevitably that meant awkward timings for people living in the wrong time-zone, but the coverage was competent, the commentary well informed.

Once again I would have liked to hear voices covering both teams. The injured Black Ferns captain, Les Elder, did a good job as analyst, but it would have been fascinating to hear some background detail from the visiting sides.


Monday, 6 June 

Canada 36-5 USA
Tauranga Domain, Tauranga

Monday, 6 June 

New Zealand 23-10 Australia
Tauranga Domain, Tauranga

Sunday, 12 June
USA 16-14 Australia
The Trusts Arena, Waitakere, Auckland

Sunday, 12 June

Canada 0-28 New Zealand
The Trusts Arena, Waitakere, Auckland

Saturday, 18 June 

Australia 10-22 Canada
Semenoff Stadium, Whangarei

Saturday, 18 June 

New Zealand 50-6 USA
Semenoff Stadium, Whangarei