New Zealand put up superb fight but fall just short of upsetting Australia

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Australia Women v New Zealand Women

The New Zealand Kiwi Ferns were not swayed by their underdog status heading into their blockbuster clash against the Australian Jillaroos, however their spirited effort just wasn't enough to see them get the win, falling by 2 points in a scrappy match dominated by defence.

The tone was set for the match right from the opening kickoff, Brianna Clark of New Zealand getting things underway. A communication collapse from the Jillaroos meant that the ball was allowed to bounce, and from there it sailed over the dead ball line, putting the Kiwi Ferns in prime attacking position immediately.

The Rugby League gods giveth and the Rugby League gods taketh away though, as the old saying goes, and the opening play error from Australia wasn't taken advantage of as New Zealand put it down on tackle one. 

The Jillaroos came into the match as heavy favourites, however you wouldn't have known it if this match was the only exposure you had to either team. Back to back set restarts saw Australia march into supreme field position, but NZ produced superb defence to stop them breaching the line, and it wasn't the only time in the match they did this. 

The Kiwi Ferns were unable to match their defensive prowess with attacking prowess though, turning the ball over frequently and coming up with poor last tackle execution on the rare occasions they were close to the opposition line. 

Australia were finally able to find a way through at the 20 minute mark, with Tarryn Aiken too strong for the Kiwi Fern defence as she burrowed her way under them and got to the line. 

The try could've easily been the straw that broke the camel's back for NZ, however they quickly made it evident that one defensive blip didn't mean they were going to turn into the easybeats many expected they'd be prior to the match. They were able to drag Isabelle Kelly touch in goal, and used the ensuing 7 tackle set to generate momentum that would eventually become a try Apii Nicholls, who scored by chasing through a grubber from Raecene McGregor. 

The conversion, although it was from right in front, was missed by Brianna Clark off the upright, which would eventually prove extremely costly as New Zealand ended up losing by two points. 

Both teams continued to struggle in attack, with numerous last tackle kicks sailing dead along with terrible handling by the Australians in particular, who finished with a 64% completion rate. 

New Zealand would hit the lead in the 56th minute, with Mele Hufanga making a line break that would set up a left side overlap for the Kiwi Ferns, who spread it right to Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly on the next play, the winger going over untouched. The conversion was missed again, keeping the lead at 8-6. 

Australia would finally string a decent period of attacking football together shortly afterwards, and it resulted in Julia Robinson being on the end of an overlap and scoring to make the score 10-8. There were question marks on the backwardness of the last pass from Jess Sergis, but the ref deemed there were no issues. 

That's where the score would stay for the rest of the match. New Zealand produced some more outstanding defensive efforts, in particular a try saving tackle from Amber Hall to stop what appeared to be a certain try for Shaylee Bent. 

Both sides each now turn their attention to the semi finals. Australia will take on Papua New Guinea and New Zealand will face England in a double header on Tuesday morning (AEDT time), with the potential for a rematch in the final should both sides emerge victorious.

Australia Women 10 - New Zealand Women 8

Venue: LNER Community Stadium, York
Crowd: 3370
Halftime Score: Australia Women 6 New Zealand Women 4 Players of the Match:
3 points - Amber Hall
2 points - Raecene McGregor
1 points - Tarryn Aiken

Tries: Tarryn Aiken, Julia Robinson
Conversions: Ali Brigginshaw (1/1), Lauren Brown (0/1)

Tries: Apii Nicholls, Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly
Conversions: Brianna Clark (0/2)

See how it happened in our Match Centre