While they fell short of a historic win over New Zealand, Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning has hailed his team’s gallant effort in their 22-14 loss at Adelaide Oval.
The Australians are still winless in 22 games against the Black Ferns but earned back some respect on Saturday.
In last week’s first O’Reilly Cup Test in Christchurch the Wallaroos were embarrassed 52-5, but will go into the October World Cup with a spring in their step after their rebound performance.
“The defensive effort,” Tregonning said when asked what he was most proud of.
“That was a big focus this week and that was a response that we wanted.
“Obviously, a little bit of discipline let us down but that effort was the biggest turnaround from last week.”
Blindside flanker Emily Chancellor and recalled No.8 Grace Hamilton were workhorses in defence for the home side while exciting young winger Bienne Terita scored two tries on debut.
Tregonning said the 19-year-old, who was part of Australia’s World Series-winning sevens team had made a statement.
“Outstanding – Bienne’s come in over the last couple of weeks and you can tell she’s been in a professional program – she’s brought a great attitude and physically she’s outstanding,” he said.
In their last hit-out before the New Zealand tournament, where they have been drawn to play the home side in the first round, the Wallaroos got out to an early lead.
Terita opened the scoring in the 10th minute after a shaky start.
She spilt a Georgie Friedrichs pass over the tryline but the Australians again worked the ball wide and this time made no mistake.
The Black Ferns lost centre Chelsea Semple, who was knocked out trying to tackle prop Liz Patu and was also yellow-carded for the head contact, leaving her team a player down.
Australia were unable to take advantage with New Zealand booting a penalty and then taking a 15-7 lead into halftime after hooker Luka Connor crashed over after a 10-phase build-up.
While the Wallaroos looked dangerous with ball in hand they struggled for any possession or territory in the second half.
Despite some valiant defence the Kiwis crossed twice, through lock Joanah Ngan-Woo and then flanker Kendra Reynolds to extend the lead to 22-7.
Showing her sevens pace Terita split the defence to touch down in the 80th minute to ensure the Australians finished with a bang.
“We knew that the Aussies were going to scrap,” Black Ferns skipper Ruahei Demant told Stan Sport.
“Playing at home and playing in front of their families, we knew that they were going to bring a different energy.
“They brought the physicality and we were chasing them at the start of the game. It took us a long time to try and get into a groove, and when we did they did really well to stop our momentum.”