Rugby World Cup: Champion Black Ferns rally to topple Australia in Eden Park tournament opener

Trailing by 17 points after half an hour, the champion Black Ferns have fought back to overturn Australia in their Rugby World Cup opener at a soldout Eden Park.

After watching nearest rivals England and France run rampant over tournament outsiders Fiji and South Africa, the NZ women had to contend with the pressure of defending their crown on home soil in front of a record crowd - and didn't handle the occasion that well to begin.

But once they found their feet - and held some passes - they were able to run in seven unanswered tries to overturn the trans-Tasman challenge 41-17, with seven speedsters Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui accounting for five tries between them.

A spate of handling errors put the Kiwis on the backfoot early, with Aussie winger Bienne Terita crossing for the opening try in the 13th minute. One of those spills lead directly to the second by opposite winger Ivania Wong, before Terita bullied NZ fullback Renee Holmes again to seal her brace.

Australia had never beaten the Ferns before, but threatened to break that duck at the most inopportune moment for the 40,000 expectant fans crammed into the Auckland fortress.

Moments after Terita's try double, NZ lock Joanah Ngan-Woo finally put her team on the scoreboard with a try from a close-range ruck, before Woodman crossed in the corner for a 17-12 halftime deficit.

A nation breathed a collective sigh of relief early in the second half, when Woodman had her second to lock up the scores.

If momentum had swung back New Zealand's way, the Aussies certainly weren't helping themselves. First-five Arabella McKenzie had a chance to steal back the lead, but inexplicably sprayed a regulation penalty attempt from in front of the posts.  

As the Ferns counterattacked from their own goal-line, Wong was yellow-carded for a deliberate knockon, but worse was to follow.

Video officials alerted South African referee Aimee Barrett-Theron to another infringement further upfield, as Wallaroos captain Shannon Parry was guilty of a no-arms tackle to the head of No.8 Liana Mikaele-Tu'u and also earned 10 minutes on the sideline.

Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant calls the shots against Australia
Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant calls the shots against Australia. Photo credit: Photosport

While Wong and Parry were off the field, reducing Australia to 13 players, the Black Ferns scored two converted tries to prop Awhina Tangen-Wainohu and Woodman that sealed the match in their favour.

Tui had toiled tirelessly all night and was instrumental in bringing her side back from the brink of defeat, so her late try double - and Player of the Match honours - were just reward for her efforts.

"Australia put us under the pump right from the start and for most of us, this was our first introduction to a Rugby World Cup," reflected captain Ruahei Demant. "I'm proud of how we closed off that first half, the way our substitutions sparked up the energy and the way we finished that game."

The tournament continues at Whangārei on Sunday, when USA face Italy, Japan take on Canada, and Wales play Scotland in New Zealand's pool.

The Black Ferns next take on the Welsh at Waitakere Stadium next Sunday.

New Zealand 41 (Woodman 3, Tui 2, Ngan-Woo & Tangen-Wainohu tries; Cocksedge conversion, Holmes 2 conversions) Australia 17 (Terita 2 & Wong tries; McKenzie conversion)

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