The Northland Age
The final we’d all hoped to see
The Black Ferns will face against England in the final of the Rugby World Cup, after narrowly defeating France 25-24 in a tense semifinal clash in Aucklandt.
In the first match between the sides in New Zealand, France had a 10-point lead before the home side replied with 10 points of their own.
France led 17-10 at halftime, before the Black Ferns took the lead for the first time in the game in the 56th minute after tries to Ruby Tui and Theresa Fitzpatrick.
A penalty awarded 37m in front in the final 70 seconds of the game could have given the French a twopoint win, but was missed by Caroline Drouin and the New Zealanders held on to take the game.
With a shot awarded in front after Santo Taumata was yellow-carded for a high tackle, Drouin shanked her kick left as New Zealand made a great escape in front of a roaring crowd.
France No 8 Romane Menager scored a brace of tries in a powerhouse display, her second pulling the French within a point with 14 minutes left.
But a yellow card for loose forward Safi N’Diaye for a high tackle proved costly for France before Drouin’s late miss sealed their fate.
“It was just an unbelievable ending,
really,” New Zealand coach Wayne Smith said.
“I thought we were pretty jittery at the start . . . I thought it was gone, but it wasn’t gone. It’s there and we’ve got a chance next week.”
France have never made it to a World Cup title match and will rue a semifinal that got away from them after they did the hard work early.
New Zealand saw off a fierce, 17-phase assault on their try-line in the opening minutes but the pressure finally told as Menager crashed over at the left post in the 23rd minute.
The French defence was brutal and second five Gabrielle Vernier was lucky not to draw a card after lifting winger Ruby Tui in a tackle and dumping her on her back.
France saved two tries before finally conceding after Drouin kicked the ball out on the full in a rare mistake, giving New Zealand a scrum in front of the posts five minutes from the break.
Captain Ruahei Demant flung the ball wide to Stacey Fluhler who streamed over near the left corner at pace to fire up the crowd.
Fullback Renee Holmes’s conversion levelled the match at 10-10 but the relentless French came again, bashing away at the New Zealand line until Vernier burst over by the left post on the stroke of halftime.
The match went up a notch as Renee Holmes sent the French defence scrambling with a deft chip forward four minutes after the restart. A human lightning bolt, Tui won a sprint against Emilie Boulard, toed the ball out of the fullback’s grasp and chased it down for a try just before the dead-ball line.
Holmes missed the conversion, though, and then shanked a longrange penalty a few minutes later.
It scarcely mattered though as the Black Ferns’ running game clicked into top gear.
A big carry by lock Maiakawanakaulani Roos drove the hosts two metres from their posts and Fitzpatrick barged over to snatch the lead for New Zealand near the hourmark.
Demant slotted the conversion and a penalty to stretch the lead to eight points but Menager set up a grandstand finish as she pounded through a nest of Black Ferns for her second try.
The Ferns will now line up in the final against England, who beat Canada 26-19 in their semifinal earlier on Saturday afternoon. They will face off at Eden Park next Saturday.