Abbie Ward puts England Women on track for record-breaking victory over New Zealand | Fall International
Another day, another giant leap for women’s rugby and the blossoming of red roses. The full impact of this record-breaking score won’t be fully measurable until live BBC Two TV audience figures are gathered, but outside of a World Cup there hasn’t been much. opportunities to feel good about English women’s football to beat it.
Even though New Zealand were slightly rusty, having not played an international in over two years, it remained a rare indignity. Their hosts, on the other hand, have now won 15 Tests in a row and consolidated their World No.1 ranking ahead of next year’s delayed World Cup. Only one of these two teams will happily await the second Test at Northampton next weekend.
It may sound greedy to suggest England should have scored more than seven tries, but they had the opportunity to do so. In the end, however, they had inflicted the biggest defeat the Black Ferns have suffered – the previous record margin was 21-7 against England ten years ago – and showed both the fitness of the attackers premises and their increasing depth behind the fray.
The eye-catching result was even achieved despite the pre-game loss of their vice-captain, Amber Reed, who injured her hamstrings in training, and injured Emily Scarratt, with input from virtually all areas of the team. Abbie Ward scored the first two tries and a third was disallowed while Abby Dow and Ellie Kildunne were a constant attacking handful.
Zoe Harrison also had a strong opener to win the player of the game title, helped by a clean pass from partner half-back Claudia MacDonald and a strong overall performance from inside center Lagi Tuima.
It wasn’t quite how New Zealand planned to score their 100th test, but a healthy crowd of nearly 10,000 enjoyed it immensely on a bright and windy afternoon. You could tell the locals were ready to do it by the length of the mushy pre-game queues, but it was West Country rugby with a refreshing twist. A female DJ on the main stands, uninhibited dancing in the aisles, catchy hymn singing and, more unusually, an English rugby team leading New Zealand 17-0 at halftime. At least some of that might just hang on permanently.
It didn’t hurt that England got off to an almost perfect start playing in the stiff, swirling breeze. Considering the occasion, they have an impressive pace and a nice hit under pressure from Kildunne allowed Ward to free the rising Dow. The winger was eventually stopped 10 yards away, but a pop pass from the ground allowed Ward to gallop towards the line.
The second try of the strong lock was completed at a slightly closer distance, but again involved Dow making quick indexed gains to the left. On a tough day for every kicker, Harrison’s conversion was a well-judged beauty and the pressure put on the Black Ferns’ faulty roster by athlete Zoe Aldcroft was just as helpful.
New Zealand simply couldn’t gain enough of the ball to free their dangerous wing Ayesha Leti-l’iga and as half-time approached there was a third English try to admire. The tackles were generous, but there was no doubt the elusive wit helped 22-year-old Harlequin Kildunne work his way to the line.
England boiled slightly in a sometimes difficult third quarter, but they did not finish. After Lark Davies scored with a maul at close range, there was a nice try for Holly Aitchison, and Dow then recovered a loose ball to pass cover again. Despite a late score from Stacey Fluhler, adding to Alana Bremner’s earlier touchdown, it was Harrison who had the final say to seal England’s first win over New Zealand since a 29-21 win at Rotorua in June 2017.
No wonder the delighted Red Roses coach Simon Middleton described it as a “massive” statement for both her team and the profile of women’s football. “I spoke to a few people who said, ‘Wow, that was amazing. “My phone was melting after the final whistle,” he said.
Her captain, Sarah Hunter, looked equally elated as she walked into the celebration. “We will take advantage of this evening because they do not come very often. “