Rugby World Cup: Rejuvenated Black Ferns eye revenge against France in semi-final

No sooner had the Black Ferns wrapped up another crushing Rugby World Cup win over Wales, had their attention turned to the gargantuan challenge that awaits them next weekend at Eden Park.

Assistant coach Wes Clarke called their 55-3 victory at Whangārei their most physical encounter of the year to date, but that's likely to be quickly usurped in their upcoming semi-final against France at Auckland.

The French pack were dominant against the Black Ferns in their two wins against the New Zealanders in Europe last year, although Clarke stressed that was a very different side to the juggernaut that's rolled through the tournament so far.

'I can't speak for the players, but I know, personally, we weren't at our best last year," said Clarke after Saturday's game. "I think we’re getting closer to that now."

"France will be a whole different prospect next week, with the way they play and the way they attack. It's going to be a cracker."

In their quarter-final on Saturday, France - yet again - leaned on their powerhouse pack to make light work of Italy, running in 29 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 39-3 win.

Hazel Tubic breaks for the Black Ferns.
Hazel Tubic breaks for the Black Ferns. Photo credit: Getty Images

Record-breaking back Portia Woodman agrees with her coach's assessment. 

Fresh off running in a brace to become the World Cup's all-time leading try-scorer (20), Woodman believes - with the benefit of more consistent game time together - the 2022 iteration of the Black Ferns is an altogether more cohesive and dangerous unit than last year's version.

"[Last year] We had bugger all rugby under our belts and had only played against ourselves," Woodman said.

"Fast forward from then to now, the girls have had [Pacific Four Series], the O'Reilly Cup tests, and now we've had three pool games and a quarterfinal in the World Cup. It's a lot more games than we had last year, so it's really awesome. 

"No doubt, it's going to be a hard game against France. They're a big defensive team, they're physical up front, but we're going to bring it, too. 

"I'll back our skills in our back line and our forward pack."

That forward park seemed to rise to a new level at the Northland Events Centre against their Welsh counterparts, who they struggled to match in their pool clash at Waitakere Stadium just a fortnight ago.

According to flanker Sarah Hirini, the Black Ferns' pack often doesn't get the respect it deserves, and it deserved plenty after laying a sturdy foundation for their backs to run riot on Saturday.

"When we're going forward, our backs are pretty dangerous," said Hirini, who powered into the corner for one of the New Zealanders' nine tries.

"I think we did that tonight physically, and I'm proud of our forward pack.

"They don't get lots of credit and will probably never get player of the match."

The Black Ferns now return to the headquarters of NZ rugby, where their raucous opening night crowd against Australia is bound to be overshadowed for their high stakes clash against the French on Saturday.

And Hirini is more than here for it.

"I'm bloody stoked," Hirini said.

"To go back to Eden Park and play in a semifinal in Aotearoa against France, the occasion won't get any bigger.

"I'm so proud to represent our country. I know the fans will keep turning up for us."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub from 7:3pm, Saturday for live updates of the semi-final between the Black Ferns and France