Wallaroos v Black Ferns – And what’s in a name?

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We were able to follow the Wallaroos v Black Ferns game live in Brisbane, which is a sign of the times.

It formed the first part of the traditional double-header that is the O’Reilly Cup, named after Laurie O’Reilly who did so much to get New Zealand women’s rugby up and running. They weren’t always at the top of the tree.

It’s a huge pity that this rivalry has proved so one-sided; so one-sided that the competition, set up in 1994, fell into abeyance for nearly ten years.

With the latest result, Wallaroos 0 New Zealand 50, the disparities continue, the Wallaroos remain winless after 29 years.

To the great credit of Queenslanders they achieved a new record attendance, 7,005.

The Wallaroos had few answers to the power of the Ferns’ pack. Only rarely could they get the upper hand on contact; too many tackles failed to halt the visitors’ advance. The Black Ferns side was young and inexperienced enough not to think about past results. They were delighted with themselves.

The match doubled as a WXV1 qualifier. Of the four nations competing in the Pacific Four series, the Ferns and the Maple Leafs are all too likely to pull through. It comes to the crunch between the Eagles and the Wallaroos to gain the all-important third place.

This section of the WXV1 qualification schedule is taking its time to complete. Still months to go.

The longer-term consequences for Australia are troublesome; in 2029 the World Cup will come visiting. By then Rugby Australia needs to have put its full weight behind the Wallaroos 15s squad. Till now the Sevens squad have received all the hand-outs.

What’s in a name?

That brings me to a curious point:

Several national sides carry a familiar nickname: Azzurre, Bleues, Eagles, Maple Leafs, Red Roses, Sakura, Springboks and Black Ferns.

I place the Ferns last simply to draw attention to the exclusive use of that term in New Zealand Rugby circles.

A commentator will never call them New Zealand or Aotearoa. You could suggest all sorts or reasons for that avoidance, going back deep into the nation’s history.

At the other extreme, the Red Roses had an official baptismal ceremony just a few years ago. New Zealand commentators proved unable or unwilling to grant England their new name when the Black Ferns came visiting in 2021. There it was ‘the England Roses’ for preference. It does show a certain discourtesy to the opposition. When another England v New Zealand match is announced, it’s always couched as Black Ferns v England. Curious.

Other leading nations haven’t settled on a second name. We may call the Irish ‘The Girls in Green’, but the Welsh and the Scots don’t bother – at least not in the English tongue. Do they have their own version in the native Celtic languages?

When it come to other European languages, confusion arises all too easily. How many times have we seen the French team referred to as ‘Les Bleus’? (Including the RFU website? Yes!) If they happen to beat the Ferns four times in a row – as they did – then New Zealand fans can console themselves with the thought that ‘Les Bleus’ ought to be able to beat a women’s team every time they come face to face.

The extra ‘e’ makes a heap of difference, Les Bleues.

The Italians can suffer a different set-back. Fewer people are familiar with their language, so how exactly is ‘Azzurre’ to be pronounced? I wouldn’t dare offer an answer.


Australia 0 New Zealand 50

Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (SAR)