Kiwi Ferns pip Jillaroos in a thriller
A try to Kiwi Ferns centre Janna Vaughan in the penultimate minute has given her side an 8-4 victory over the Australian Jillaroos in the first ever Nines game between the two countries.
It was the second time the New Zealand side pipped their Trans Tasman rivals just before the siren after stealing a 12-8 win in Wollongong last November.
The first round of group matches at the NRL Auckland Nines set the stage for a highly-entertaining affair between the long time counterparts, a tantalising show of skills and brutal hits well appreciated by the strong Eden Park crowd.
A passionate pre-match haka was matched by the vicious opening hit up from Ferns prop Krystal Murray. And it was the hosts who had first crack at the scoreboard, but their right edge assault was brought undone by a scrambling Aussie defence.
The visitors then went on the front foot when winger Deanna Turner showed a clean pair of heels to round up a smart Ali Bigginshaw behind the Ferns line, before throwing a difficult overhead pass for a supporting Jenny-Sue Hoepper to score first points.
Staring at a 4-0 deficit, New Zealand had more opportunities and continued to pepper Australia's left-side, but they were once again turned away and were left to think about their approach at half-time.
The hits continued to come upon resumption – particularly from the Ferns – and the home side were rewarded with their efforts when hooker Sharnita Woodman pounced on a grubber in the in-goal. Her never-say-die effort in the 13th minute was matched only by her Steven Gerrard-esque celebration down the sideline towards her bench.
Deadlocked at 4-4 and with the game entering the final stages, a breathtaking right-to-left shift from the Kiwis ended in centre Janna Vaughan stiff-arming a helpless Jillaroos defender on her way to touching down inside the corner post and securing a historic victory.
It was particularly sweet way for Vaughan to end what was her first appearance for New Zealand.
"That was my debut for the Kiwi Ferns and my first try, so it was pretty exciting," Vaughan said.
"I was screaming for the ball and trying to be calm at the same time. The girls responded, we got it through the hands quickly and I put a bit of a fend on, thankfully we got the try."
With two games left in their series against the Kiwi Ferns over Nines weekend, Turner said the Jillaroos needed to show more spark in attack if they wanted to stay in the hunt.
"To keep this series alive next game we have to spread the ball and utilise our speed a bit more," Turner said.
"The Kiwi Ferns were way more defensively structured than we were figuring we would encounter. But they are always tough, regardless of the format of the game."
Kiwi Ferns 8 (Woodman, Vaughan tries) def. Australia Jillaroos 4 (Hoepper try). Half-time: 0-4.