History-makers Canada claim Pacific Four Series with first-ever win over Black Ferns

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Inspirational captain Sophie de Goede was lost for words after Canada beat New Zealand for the first time in 18 attempts to claim the Pacific Four Series trophy and climb to second in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.

Fancy Bermudez scored twice as Canada won a tense and tight encounter against New Zealand in Christchurch 22-19 to claim the World Rugby Pacific Four Series title for the first time in its current format with a fourth win in as many matches.

But they had to hold off huge late pressure from the hosts, after scrum-half Olivia Apps was sin-binned for a dangerous challenge on Ruahei Demant 10 minutes from time.

Bermudez’s two short-range darts – one in each half – followed impressive close maul work from Canada’s forwards as they overhauled New Zealand’s early lead at Apollo Projects Stadium to claim a first-ever win over the Black Ferns in the 18th meeting between the sides.

The win means Canada will climb to second in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings on Monday with New Zealand slipping to their lowest-ever position of third.

Winger Katelyn Vahaakolo had scored two early tries to give New Zealand a slight advantage at the end of a hard-fought first half in tricky handling conditions in Christchurch.

Her first came in the 10th minute, as she dotted down in the corner after the ball had gone through the hands following a five-metre lineout. The forwards had done the early work before the ball was spread wide.

Her second – a magical planned open-play move – followed in the 23rd minute. Kennedy Simon had run strongly and offloaded to Layla Sae. Chryss Viliko had taken the ball into contact, before Maya Joseph sniped one way and dipped a no-look inside pass to Vahaakolo, who raced in for her second.

Sophie de Goede had already got Canada’s scoreboard moving with an early penalty, but – for all their effort and endeavour – they had been repeatedly unable to break New Zealand’s defensive wall in a tense and tough and difficult encounter.

Things changed on the half-hour. A cross-field kick under penalty advantage had got them close, but they had been unable to finish. Alex Tessier kicked the penalty to touch seven metres out. Sara Cline was stopped an inch short following an impressive lineout maul, but Bermudez was on hand to dart over. De Goede converted to take the sides into half-time at 14-10.

Five minutes into the second half, Canada’s loose-head McKinley Hunt came up with the ball after another inexorable, inevitable lineout maul to take the visitors into the lead for the first time, and Bermudez repeated her close-range dart just before the hour to give themselves an eight-point cushion. 

The pressure was building on New Zealand. Bermudez had been a matter of centimetres from scoring a few moments earlier, and Tessier did cross minutes later following a break by Paige Farries – but the score was crossed off for obstruction. 

Despite the reprieve for the Black Ferns, Canada were in the ascendency, until Apps’ yellow. Patricia Maliepo found herself in wide open spaces as the visitors ran out of defenders to score in the corner to set up a tense finish.

But Canada – unbeaten in 2024 – held on to lift the trophy.

Canada captain De Goede said immediately afterwards that she “had no words” to describe the moment. 

“You see out there what it means to this team,” she said. “We’ve been knocking on the door and pushing to make a statement on the world stage for Canada for a while now. And I’m just so proud we were able to do it on the occasion of Tyson’s [Beukeboom’s Canadian record-breaking] 68th cap.”

And she laid all the credit for the win on her side’s huge work without the ball. “Defensively, the stand before half-time, where we kept them out was a really big moment for us,” she said. “I’m really proud of the work we did around the breakdown.”

And player of the match, tight-head DaLeaka Menin, added “We worked so hard. It was just about putting our best out there, just performing. We tried to go out and have a lot of fun.”

Disappointed Black Ferns co-captain Simon warned Australia to expect a backlash when the two sides meet in next weekend’s final Pacific Four Series 2024 encounter in North Harbour. 

“We let them get on top of us,” she said of the result in Christchurch, which did at least secure New Zealand’s place in WXV 1 later this year. “Little things that we could have fixed – congratulations to them. We have to go away and reflect on ourselves.

“It’s not over.

“We tried to focus on our set piece and making sure that we have ball in hand – we’re lethal when we’re in control. It’s just making sure we make the most of those moments.”

Credit: World Rugby

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