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Ward at the double as Red Roses thump New Zealand

Abbie Ward scored twice as the Red Roses ran in seven tries en route to a 43-12 win over the Black Ferns at Exeter’s Sandy Park.

Sarah Bern also started for England, while Leanne Infante made her return from the bench, in a win sees them retain number one side in the world status, and stretches their unbeaten run to 15 matches.

A tentative start saw both sides jostle for position and territory, with the Red Roses tested in attack and defence.

Hard carries forced an early penalty for Simon Middleton’s charges, but an unforced error at the resulting lineout thwarted the possibility of points.

The Black Ferns then showed how quickly momentum can shift, by making their way up field toward the England line, and forcing the hosts to defend for multiple phases.

It took 11 minutes for the first points to be scored, and they came in the form of an Abbie Ward try. In open play, fly half Zoe Harrison zipped a pass across the pitch into the path of Ellie Kildunne, who tapped the bouncing ball onto Ward. The second row then unleashed Abby Dow down the left flank, before the winger offloaded it back to Ward who crossed the whitewash.

Six minutes later Ward got her second, powering over from the base of a one-metre ruck, and Harrison, having missed the first conversion, was successful with her second to make it 12-0.

The Red Roses began to take control of the Test dominating the set piece battle and pinning the kiwis back in their own half with educated kicks, and as half time approached, they extended the lead further.

Harrison fed her Saracens team mate and debutant Holly Aitchison, who quickly found Kildunne on an arcing run. The Harlequins flyer perplexed the Black Ferns defence with dazzling footwork and shot over for the game’s third try, making it 17-0 at the break.

The Black Ferns came out firing in the second half, and scored within five minutes of the resumption. Inside centre Chelsea Alley dropped a well-weighted grubber kick behind the Red Rose backline, and debutant Alana Bremner got on the end of it to score. Kendra Cocksedge added the extras.

Bremner went from hero to villain in the space of a few minutes, receiving a yellow card for not rolling away after making a try-saving tackle on Ward, and the Red Roses took immediate advantage.

With each attack they stretched the Black Ferns, with Zoe Aldcroft and Lagi Tuima hitting gaps at will. England's forwards made it count in the 55th minute, as Lark Davies powered over the try line off the back of a trademark rolling maul. Harrison's extras made it 24-7.

Maud Muir came off the bench to make her international debut, moments before Aitchison scored on hers. The Saracen spotted a gap 40 metres out, and darted through it, showing acceleration we have seen on the World Sevens Series to canter unopposed over the line. 

The Black Ferns continued to be competitive, but were unable to match England's intensity as Abby Dow claimed the hosts' sixth try, which was converted by Harrison. New Zealand's Stacey Fluhler scrapped over for a try in the closing stages, but it was a consolation, as Harrison scored a try of her own in the final play of the game. She converted her own effort to make it 43-12.


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