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WXV1 – Round Two

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A Look Forward

First the fixtures, all in Dunedin:

Friday 27 October, England v Canada; KO 19.00 (local time), 07.00 (UK time)
Saturday 28 October, New Zealand v Wales KO 16.00 (local time), 04.00 (UK time)
Saturday 28 October, France v Australia KO 19.00 (local time), 07.00 (UK time)

They present a clear-cut division between the top three in rankings and the bottom three. It would be a major shock if any of those relative standings were upset, but that’s what makes life exciting.


Last time out England showed an age-old weakness, the inability to give an 80-minute performance. It’s doubtful the management needed to mention that they scraped the second half 14-7, and the Wallaroos were reduced to 14 players well before the end.

More to the point: why does it happen so often, and how do they prevent a repeat? So far as toughness and resilience are concerned, the Maple Leafs are poorly named, not famous for giving up the ghost.
We may assume that the management (with or without an input from newly arrived John Mitchell?) will bring players missing from Round One back into action (for example, Sarah Bern, Lark Davies and Ellie Kildunne). It remains to be seen whether Amy Cokayne has recovered sufficiently from injury to appear. She must be impatient to mark her return to her former stamping-ground as soon as possible.


Try as we might, it’s hard to see Wales overcoming the power of the Black Ferns pack, all the more so after the hosts’ disturbing 1-point loss to the French. Though the Welsh did well to post 22 points against Canada, defences leaked 42, which must be a cause for special concern to the coaches responsible. France proved that if you keep knocking the opposition down, you are more likely to win.

It’s an indication of the gaps that refuse to disappear in world rugby that the Welsh sit at an all-time high of sixth place, just two behind the Maple Leafs, but they still finished a whole 20 points in arrears.


They will be buoyed by that first-ever win over the Ferns on their soil, though they created only one diamond-plated try themselves, the second by Cyrielle Banet. The other, finished by Emilie Boulard, was a case of picking up crumbs that magically transform into a very large birthday cake.

To me it looked as though the coaches were taking a risk in the squad they announced for such a tough assignment. But it turned out to be well-nigh perfect. Among the players you might have expected to start were Pauline Bourdon-Sansus and Carla Arbez. But their replacements (Alex Chambon and Lina Queyroi), did their nation proud.

Interlude: ’Roll up, roll up!’

The mention of cake leads to an ongoing worry, the lack of crowds to support the players at all three venues.

Wellington’s ‘Cake Tin’ was well nigh empty, so were Stellenbosch and Dubai.

If New Zealand’s devotion to rugby means glorifying the All Blacks to the exclusion of all else, then they hardly deserve the right to be hosting this top women’s tournament.

The clash with the World Cup in Paris was well understood by the organisers from the start. But WXV had been scheduled to take place a whole year earlier; any more delay, and it would have run up too close to the 2024 World Cup in England.

The next location is the Forsyth Barr Stadium Dunedin in the deep south, a city that was totally deprived of the 2021 RWC (‘held in 2022’, in the cumbersome phrase), so we can only hope that larger crowds will tun out than in the capital.

The prospects are not promising. Major sporting events have attracted crowds around 15,000, half the stadium’s capacity. And unfortunately the men’s RWC final takes place in Paris the very same day. Can you believe it, the All Blacks are one of the finalists!

That leaves Round Three to breathe its own air, and it will take place in (or rather, just outside) Auckland, much the largest city of the nation.

The last time the Black Ferns met the Red Roses (known in New Zealand exclusively as ‘England’), people finally agreed to turn out in numbers. A repeat would be appreciated.


You could call Sophie De Goede the only player in the tournament who stands consistently head and shoulders above the rest of her group. That is more common in nations near the start of their international lives, where one player can act as a guiding star and inspiration.

The Canadian captain contributed 17 points to the total of 42, and it would be revealing to see how well they perform without her.

Kevin Rouet must be pleased to see newer faces playing so well, not least Olivia Apps and the much trumpeted Madison Grant. He has a good understanding with Jack Hanratty, i/c the 7s squad, so has been able to regain players, including the captain, from there. There is strong competition for starting places, always a healthy sign.


The Wallaroos had no misapprehensions about what lay in store for them, but they have kept a cheerful demeanour. They are still suffering badly from the continuing neglect of Rugby Australia. We can only hope that a change of heart comes well before preparations start for the next RWC.

They can be proud of their achievements in holding the top-ranked nation at bay for such lengthy periods a week ago. The French have been known to go into hibernation mid-game too, but there’s a new regime in place that will have made its expectations all too clear.

New Zealand

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at Allan Bunting’s debrief! He knew that the game with les Bleues was going to be tight, that’s par for the course, but some of the errors made were hard for him to accept.

The red card shown to Chryss Viliko may well be an indirect reflection on the inexperience of so many Black Ferns players. Their exploits tend to get talked up in the Super Aupiki, but test matches, with the eyes of the world on you, are another kettle of fish entirely.

Bunting prefers an open game, letting the ball do the work. He may well propose using the backs more often, more productively. They have classy operators out behind, but they achieved only the one try, thanks to a telling grubber through by Ruby Tui. On the ill-famed England tour it was the backs who gained the credit for their creative play. But now there is no Stacey Fluhler, no Portia Woodman on hand to produce the magic.