The gulf at the top of women’s rugby was on show again as Australia wilted to England’s Red Roses 42-7 in their WXV 1 match in Wellington. The opening night of World Rugby’s new competition was a mismatch, with world No 1 England dismantling the fifth-ranked Wallaroos with a four-try first half.
Captain Marlie Packer doubled up after the break, while Wallaroos forward Annabelle Codey was red-carded for a pair of high shots that meant Australia played half an hour with 14. Even fully equipped, the Wallaroos could not stay with the rampant English, who are set for a third perfect season in four years.
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Hannah Botterman pushed her way over after five minutes, before Wallaroos winger Maya Stewart was stretchered off after tackling Holly Aitchson as Ella Wyrwas scored on her full debut. When Codey was yellow-carded for a shoulder charge on Marlie Packer on 30 minutes, the England captain responded by scoring from the subsequent lineout, charging over from a trademark England drive.
Australia prevented another drive only to fall victim to a blindside sucker-punch, as Wyrwas offloaded to Jess Breach for England’s fourth. Aitchson was impeccable by foot and named player of the match, converting from both wings of Sky Stadium as well as two central efforts to put England 28-0 up at the break.
After a rolling maul delivered Packer’s second try and England’s fifth, the Wallaroos hit the scoreboard on 54 minutes when Layne Morgan took a quick tap and Ashley Marsters sidestepped her way through a disorganised defence.
The Red Roses struck back within two minutes as Megan Jones took a short ball from Wyrwas and raced through for her side’s sixth try. Codey’s second yellow with 20 minutes left gave England the chance to run up the scoreboard but Australia resisted.
A heavy defeat was predictable: England had dominated Australia in their previous six Tests, including a 36-point belting in last year’s World Cup quarter-final.
Packer said Australia “asked us lots of questions” but her side had the answers. “We talk about courage and being courageous. That’s what we did tonight as an england team,” she said.
The Wallaroos brought some fight, finding success with a running game in inside and outside channels, but were repeatedly thwarted by lost possession at the breakdown. Captain Michaela Leonard said she was most proud of Australia’s effort in close confines.
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“When I look at that scrum for the whole 80, we put it to them,” she said. “When we got it right it worked well for us.”
WXV, a new annual competition, fills the gap between World Cups for sides to play similar-ranked sides out of their region. The elite WXV 1 brings together the top three European and Pacific-based sides for a three-week round-robin tournament, this year held in New Zealand.
France, Wales, Canada and the hosts are in action on Saturday, with the competition’s showpiece match the final clash of the tournament. The Red Roses will face the Black Ferns in a replay of the last World Cup final at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium on 4 November.