New Zealand kicked off their pursuit of a fourth world cup with a comprehensive 46-0 victory over France.
Roxette Murdoch-Masila and Katelyn Vaha’akolo both scored doubles as the 2017 runners-up put on a dominant display at the LNER Community Stadium.
Despite the size of the scoreline, the opening 25 minutes were far from comfortable for the Ferns.
A flurry of New Zealand errors plus a strong defensive start from France gave the three-time world champions plenty of food for thought.
As the Ferns struggled to make a breakthrough, France launched an attack of their own in the 20th minute. A dangerous grubber kick from Elisa Ciria was kicked into touch by New Zealand as Vincent Baloup’s side rued a big try scoring opportunity.
From that point on, the Ferns were able to find another gear as they surged ahead. The opening try came from Madison Bartlett who touched down in the corner following quick build-up play from Georgia Hale and Raecene McGregor.
New Zealand scored their second try on the half-hour mark. This time it was a grubber kick from McGregor which caught the French defence off guard as the ball crashed against the post. The deflection allowed Apii Nicholls to touch down.
Just three minutes later, the Ferns found another breakthrough. French winger Cristina Song-Puche spilled a catch deep in her own half which handed New Zealand possession just 10 metres out.
New Zealand worked the ball out wide with pace as Bartlett displayed incredible skill to keep the ball alive. Moments later, the Ferns found Amber Hall who beat two French defenders with her footwork before crashing over. Clark’s conversion made it 16-0.
Moments before the half-time hooter, New Zealand landed another major blow with Roxette Murdoch-Masila getting over the whitewash.
HT: New Zealand 20-0 France
France faced a 20-point deficit as the second half got underway, though their chances of a miraculous comeback were immediately shot as the Ferns scored their fifth try of the match.
Katelyn Vaha’akolo was able to stamp her name on the scoresheet as New Zealand worked the ball out wide with pace, allowing the winger to crash over unopposed.
Eight minutes later, Page McGregor joined that ever growing try scorers list. The centre caught McGregor’s last-tackle kick before spinning over the whitewash. A successful conversion from Nicholls moved the Ferns 30-0 ahead.
Just a few moments later, Vaha’akolo completed her brace on the 55th minute mark to further enhance New Zealand’s lead.
For the next 20 minutes, the Ferns appeared to take their foot off the gas. However, that didn’t stop them from turning on the style in the closing stages, with Murdoch-Masila and Shanice Parker closing out the 46-0 victory.
FT: New Zealand 46-0 France
New Zealand: Apii Nicholls, Katelyn Vaha’akolo, Shanice Parker, Paige McGregor, Madison Bartlett, Autumn-Rain Stephens Daly, Raecene McGregor, Mya Hill-Moana, Krystal Rota, Annetta-Claudia Nu’uausala, Roxette Murdoch-Masila, Amber Hall, Georgia Hale.
Bench: Nita Maynard, Charlotte Scanlan, Otesa Pule, Brianna Clark, Crystal Tamarua.
Tries: Bartlett 24, Nicholls 30, Hall 33, Murdoch-Masila 38, 75, Vaha’akolo 41, 55, McGregor 49, Parker 79
Conversions: Clark 4, Nicholls 1
France: Manon Samarra, Margot Canal, Laureane Biville, Zoe Pastre-Courtine, Cristina Song-Puche, Elisa Ciria, Alice Varela, Cyndia Mansard, Fanny Ramos, Gaelle Alvernhe, Elisa Akpa, Perrine Monsarrat, Leila Bessahli.
Bench: Elodie Pacull, Mailys Borak, Tallis Kuresa, Dorine Samarra, Anais Fourcroy.