New Zealand’s running game trumped England’s power to win a thrilling final of the women’s Rugby World Cup 34-31 in Auckland on Saturday and retain their title in front of a record 40,000 crowd.
It was a spectacular end to a tournament that has broken records for attendances and came after England played three-quarters of the game with 14 players.
Winger Ayesha Leti-I’iga put the Black Ferns ahead with their sixth try and they held at Eden Park to halt England’s world-record winning streak at 30 matches. It was the hosts’ sixth World Cup title.
England’s winger Lydia Thompson was shown a red card for a head-high tackle but they still nearly pulled off victory thanks to the ferocity of their forward play.
Four of England’s five tries came from lineout drives, including a hat-trick to hooker Amy Cokayne, and they were handed a chance to snatch victory in the dying minutes.
However, two lineout drives were repelled by the home team on their tryline and when England knocked-on, the 40,000 crowd – a record for a women’s rugby match – erupted in noise.
It completed a metamorphosis for New Zealand under veteran former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, who was introduced this year after the Black Ferns were thrashed twice by England a year ago despite being reigning world champions.
Smith had steered the Black Ferns to 11 straight wins but his team were still underdogs against a Red Roses side he labelled one of the best teams in the history of men’s or women’s rugby.
His team stayed true to the breathless, attacking style they had used with success all tournament and it ultimately triumphed over England’s efficient, power-based game.
New Zealand captain Ruahei Demant said her team’s turnaround in fortunes was one the country should savour.
“It’s been really challenging. Last year we went on a northern tour and we got pumped,” Demant said.
“The way that the players have turned themselves around, there’s a lot that’s unseen. We’ve sacrificed so much to get one chance in a lifetime to win a World Cup at home, and we did it.”
England lose control
England took early control through tries to fullback Ellie Kildunne and Cokayne before the game burst into life when Thompson was sent off for her 19th-minute tackle on Portia Woodman, which left the star Black Ferns winger unable to continue.
New Zealand’s immediate response was a try to hooker Georgia Ponsonby which set off a tit-for-tat scoring pattern for the remainder of an electric first half.
Flanker Marlie Packer and Cokayne both scored from English lineout drives while New Zealand responded both times, through Woodman’s replacement, Leti-I’iga and prop Amy Rule.
The hosts hit the front through tries soon after the interval to centre Stacey Fluhler and prop Krystal Murray.
However, momentum swung back to England when Cokayne bagged her third try and New Zealand lost momentum in the 65th minute when replacement forward Kennedy Simon was shown a yellow card for a high tackle.
Still a player down, New Zealand rolled the dice by launching an audacious wide attack and paid off as Leti-I’iga scored her second try, via an offload from centre Fluhler.
Earlier, France hammered Canada 36-0 in the playoff for third place.
France scored five tries in a dominant display to secure the bronze medal for a remarkable seventh time, having never qualified for the final.
Here are some reactions to New Zealand’s triumph
With inputs from AFP