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Wales lose WRWC opener

By Ospreys Rugby | 09/08/2017

Ospreys second row, Mel Clay, scored one of Wales’ two tries as they began their Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 campaign with a tough, yet ultimately promising, 44-12 loss to New Zealand.

Rowland Phillips' side gave it their all from first minute to last, but the Black Ferns were clinical when it mattered, scoring eight tries in the process.

Full-back Selica Winiata crossed for a hat-trick and wing Renee Wickliffe added a brace as their team put on an impressive display of running rugby. Wales were never disheartened, and indeed - through their gritty forward pack - often imposed themselves on New Zealand, scored second-half tries through Sioned Harries and Clay.

Wales will need a result against Canada on Sunday in order to reach the semi-finals, but moments during today's opening match at Billings Park will have given them plenty of heart.

In the Dublin sunshine, Wales started strongly but fell behind to a moment of magic from the Black Ferns. The four-time world champions ran back a clearance kick with interest, a sensational break from wing Portia Woodman seeing her escape Wales' last line of defence on the outside.

Winiata was the beneficiary, getting on the end of the crucial final pass to score in the corner. The conversion from scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge was missed.

At 5-0 down, Wales looked determined to try and spread the ball wide when they had the chance. But with the New Zealand pack on top, Phillips' outfit struggled to escape their own half and eventually paid the price. Stacey Waaka scored the Black Ferns' second try, the centre given an easy finish following a flowing team move. Cocksedge's attempt at the extras fell short.

Wales were now up against it, but they refused to go away, flanker Alisha Butchers producing a lively performance on the flank with a series of impressive carries.

New Zealand were lucky to avoid being penalised for a deliberate knock-on in one instance, but what they did do was give Wales a lesson in how to take your chances.

After Wales were penalised for going off their feet, experienced captain Fiao'o Faamausili led a breakout which saw Wickliffe score her first of the day. The left wing then added further salt to Welsh wounds, picking off a well-read Welsh pass and racing 70 metres to escape the covering defence and add her second.

Cocksedge was still unable to add any points from the tee, but a 20-0 half-time scoreline was harsh on Wales who deserved more for their committed display.

Phillips' side faced a tough task to get back into the game, and in all likelihood, any hopes they had of victory were ended at the start of the second period.

Centre Kelly Brazier showed impressive footwork to hack on a loose Welsh pass and find Woodman to score and lock Eloise Blackwell dived over from close range for New Zealand's sixth try. Cocksedge converted Blackwell's effort for a convincing 32-0 lead at the hour mark.

The score seemed to spur Wales into life and they finally got on the board when Harries burst off a line-out to power over. Snowsill converted.

Winiata and Clay then exchanged quickfire tries, Wales scoring after Cocksedge was rightly sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on a matter of minutes after kicking her second conversion of the day. Snowsill was unable to convert Clay's effort, but there was still time for an entertaining game to deliver more action.

The electric Winiata sprinted home to secure her treble and complete the scoring, Brazier taking over from kicking duties but dragging her conversion off target.

Wales, with a strong home presence in Ireland, will have every confidence in taking the game to Canada at the same venue this Sunday at 17:00.

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