Red Roses endure the pain of World Cup final defeat
New Zealand were crowned Women’s Rugby World Cup champions for the fifth time beating holders England 41-32 after a breathless game that will go down as a classic final of both the men’s and women’s game.
For the majority of the tournament, New Zealand’s match-day 23 was made up of 17 amateurs and just six players on sevens contracts, this is sure to further the debate surrounding professional contracts for women’s XVs players as England were the only side in the tournament to field a professional side.
Head coach Simon Middleton’s charges looked sharp until the hourmark but the Black Ferns showed that ruthless streak Kiwi teams are famed for. None was more ruthless than player of the match, loose-head prop Toka Natua, who scored a hat-trick.
A talking point in the build-up to the final was Middleton’s decision to start Emily Scarratt at full-back – due to injury enforced absence of Danielle Waterman – rather than the No13 role she has made her own. Meg Jones, 20, joined veteran Rachael Burford at centre. Despite a bright early showing from England’s forwards and fly-half, and architect-in-chief, Katy Mclean; New Zealand drew first blood. Fullback Selica Winiata ran through for the opening try of the final off the back of a cross-field kick. Scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge could not add the extras.
After an injury scare, Scarratt looked in fine form making a burst for the Red Roses to enter New Zealand’s 22. Minutes later she nailed a penalty awarded due to a dangerous tackle by Natua.
Black Ferns openside Sarah Goss, who played on the same high school team in New Zealand as England’s hooker Amy Cokayne, was shown the yellow card by Irish referee Joy Neville after a horizontal tip-tackle on Mclean.
With the one-woman advantage, England looked to capitalise pushing toward the five-metre line but New Zealand’s rush defence was effective. Something had to give and England looked to score through blind side Alex Matthews but, when Irish TMO Simon McDowell was consulted, she was deemed to be held up.
With a five-metre scrum, the English front row put in a heroic effort and Sarah Hunter showed why she is regarded as the best in the world at the base of scrum and her side were awarded a penalty try, putting them ahead for the first time after 24 minutes.
England pulled further ahead thanks to a try from wing Lydia Thompson, who had to leave the 2014 World Cup in France due to injury – a sweet moment for the 25-year-old. Scarratt showed class from the tee with her conversion.
New Zealand rallied in the final minutes of the first half and were rewarded by a try from Natua. Cocksedge again
could not add the extra two points. The first half ended 17-10 to England.
When New Zealand were awarded a penalty early in the second half, they chose to kick to the corner, showing their intent.
Fly-half Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali looked dangerous with ball in hand so close to England’s line, helping to set up Natua to score her second. This time Cocksedge’s kick was on point to level the game.
England revved back into action and were rewarded with a penalty from a tricky angle as No8 Aroha Savage failed to release the ball, which Scarratt again nailed to edge her side ahead.
New Zealand went on the rampage from the restart. Lock Charmaine Smith crashed over and Cocksedge converted to take the Black Ferns four points ahead. But England hit back as Thompson flew up the wing to score her second try.
Scarratt missed the difficult conversion, her first miss of the night, meaning that England were back a point ahead. The breathless nature of the final continued when the Black Ferns trampled up the field with Natua securing her hat-trick. With the successful conversion, New Zealand went back ahead.
Try-scoring machine Portia Woodman had been relatively quiet but made a swashbuckling diagonal run to place her close to the English line. After a period camped on the line, Cocksedge pushed over and converted her own try to take to score line to 25-36.
New Zealand’s confidence grew with the 11-point cushion and the balletic
The Kiwis showed the ruthless streak that New Zealand teams are famous for
Winiata danced over the line to put her side 16 points ahead.
With 10 minutes to go, the Black Ferns had one hand on the trophy and continued to press, with the English defence looking increasingly flustered.
Yet England would not wane and, with less than four minutes on the clock, replacement Izzy Noel-Smith crashed over and, with another accurate kick from Scarratt, England clawed themselves back to within nine points but it was too little too late to retain their hold on the World Cup.
End of the road: The England players console each other after losing the World Cup Final in Belfast last night in a game that showcased the sport to an audience of millions
Champions again: the Black Ferns celebrate after winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup; Toka Natua, below, goes over for New Zealand