Australian Jillaroos overcame an inspired New Zealand performance as they came from behind to finish top of their group and seal a semi-final clash with PNG in the Women’s World Cup.
The Jillaroos, who are looking to claim their third consecutive world title, entered the match as heavy favourites but came out on top by the slightest of margins.
A single conversion from Ali Brigginshaw was the difference as the Aussies picked up a 10-8 victory against a side they’re expected to meet again in the final.
The defeat for New Zealand means they will take on hosts England at the LNER Community stadium on Monday. Despite losing their first match of the tournament, the Kiwi Ferns came out of the contest knowing that the difference between them and Australia is not as big as first thought.
Australia came out firing from the first whistle, but they were unable to penetrate the New Zealand defence with the same ease they presented in their opening two games.
The defending champions were put to work and only got their reward in the 20th minute with Tarryn Aiken forcing her way over the whitewash. Moments later, Brigginshaw added the extras.
Having cruised to victories against the Cook Islands and France, it became apparent that the Jillaroos were not exactly battle-hardened by their first week in England.
When it came to keeping their opponents at bay, cracks began to show in the untested Aussie defence. New Zealand certainly took full advantage on the half-hour mark.
A grubber kick from Raecene McGregor bounced over the head of Aiken and landed perfectly for Apii Nicholls who touched down to the right of the sticks.
HT: Jillaroos 6-4 Kiwi Ferns
Brianna Clark, who was ruthless with the boot against the Cook Islands, was denied by the post on this occasion as the Aussies remained two points ahead.
The Kiwi Ferns did eventually take the lead, with Autumn-Rain Stephens Daly going over in the 55th minute. The Aussies were caught out down the left as New Zealand quickly shifted the ball out wide, allowing Stephens Daly to cross unopposed.
However, another missed conversion meant the Kiwi Ferns led 8-6 with 25 minutes still to go.
Ultimately, the Aussies had enough time to recover the losses, and the Jillaroos regained their lead on the 61st minute mark.
The world champions shifted the ball out wide through Sammy Bremner and Aiken, who then quickly unleashed Julia Robinson over the whitewash.
Both teams had opportunities in the final quarter-of-an-hour, though there were no further breakthroughs as the Aussies held out for the 10-8 victory.
Australia will now take on Papua New Guinea in their semi-final, while New Zealand square off with hosts, England. Both games will take place in York on Monday.
FT: Jillaroos 10-8 Kiwi Ferns
Australia: Sammy Bremner, Julia Robinson, Jessica Sergis, Isabelle Kelly, Jaime Chapman, Tarryn Aiken, Ali Brigginshaw, Shannon Mato, Keeley Davis, Caitlan Johnston, Kezie Apps, Yasmin Clydsdale, Simaima Taufa.
Bench: Kennedy Cherrington, Shaylee Bent, Lauren Brown, Emma Tonegato, Keilee Joseph.
Tries: Aiken (20), Robinson (62)
Goals: Brigginshaw 1
New Zealand: Apii Nicholls, Autumn-Rain Stephens Daly, Mele Hufanga, Page McGregor, Katelyn Vaha’akolo, Abigail Roache, Raecene McGregor, Brianna Clark, Krystal Rota, Annetta-Claudia Nu’uausala, Roxette Murdoch-Masila, Amber Hall, Georgia Hale.
Bench: Nita Maynard, Mya Hill-Moana, Otesa Pule, Christyl Stowers, Karli Hansen.
Tries: Nicholls (30), Stephens Daly (55)