New Zealand were crowned Women’s Rugby World Champions for a fourth successive time as they defeated England 13 -10 in a titanic battle at The Stoop. The victory came after a superb 80 minutes of rugby in front of more than 13,000 at the Twickenham venue, writes Ali Donnelly.
In truth though there was only three points in it, New Zealand were the dominant of the two teams throughout – certainly in terms of possession as England were forced to defend for large periods of the game. The Black Ferns also had to do it the hard way – losing three players to the sinbin at key stages of the match and they were playing with just 13 for part of the first half.
It was a nervy start for the home team with England’s most capped player Amy Garnett dropping the kickoff and then Danielle Waterman was forced into a try saving tackle on Black Fern centre Kelly Brazier just three minutes in.
England were forced on the defensive back-foot much of the first half as New Zealand launched wave after wave of attack. The home team though, backed by a huge crowd, held on, and two missed penalties – one from Brazier and one from Emma Jenson helped them keep New Zealand off the scoreboard despite their total dominance.
As England battled to get into the match the Black Ferns were reduced to 14 when flyhalf Anna Richards was binned for not rolling away on the deck and the tide looked to be turning in England’s favour as they finally had some possession deep in New Zealand’s half.
Their flyhalf Katie McLean then missed a kick at goal but England finally had a foothold in the game with some jinking runs from Waterman getting the crowd and her team-mates going.
New Zealand were finding life at the breakdown tough with Sarah Corrigan, the Australian referee pulling them up repeatedly and often harshly for infringements and when Mel Bosman joined Richards in the bin England were attacking against 13. The Black Ferns were brave with two players down and held onto possession well enough till Richards came back on and then their first score which had been threatening all half, came.
The try itself was straightforward enough with the ball moving wide quickly to winger Carla Hohepa and the lethal finisher made no mistake in getting across the line safely. Brazier’s convertion gave the Ferns a 7-0 lead as they finally had something to show for their overall dominance in the half.
McLean missed a fairly straight forward attempt at goal just before the break as the sides turned around with the Black Ferns 7-0 up.
England made a better start to the second half with McLean getting them on the scoreboard almost immediately with a penalty.
The best passage of the match followed as Hohepa blazed down the right wing after a ball squirted loose from a ruck – Jo McGilChrist, the England lock managed to get a hand on her and England somehow recovered possession as the Black Ferns were hard out attacking and kick it clear.
Brazier kicked a penalty to edge them 10-3 ahead and then New Zealand lost their skipper to the bin as Melissa Ruscoe was carded for being off her feet and suddenly England were right back in it and attacking in New Zealand’s 22 with a series of scrums. England were patient and they were rewarded when a brilliant drive helped free the ball up and Charlotte Barras dived over in the corner.
The crowd went wild when McLean nailed the touchline convertion as the game was tied up 10 apiece. Brazier settled the New Zealand nerves with a well struck penalty of her own minutes later.
The game was set for a thrilling finale with New Zealand taking a slender lead into the final ten minutes. It was a battle not for the fainthearted as England threw everything they had at the Black Ferns but the defending champions wound down the clock expertly.
The IRB have also presented the World Player of the Year award to New Zealand’s Carla Hohepa.
Images thanks to Ilona O’Donnell
New Zealand: Victoria Grant, Carla Hohepa, Huriana Manuel, Kelly Brazier, Renee Wickcliffe, Anna Richards, Emma Jensen, Ruth McKay, Fiao’o Faamausili, Mel Bosman, Vita Robinson, Victoria Heighway, Melissa Ruscoe, Justine Lavea, Casey Robertson
Replacements: Steph Te Ohaere-Fox (for Bosman 65), Trish Hina (for Wickliffe 71), Joan Siona (for Robertson 71), Linda Itunu (for Leavea 71)
England: Danielle Waterman, Charlotte Barras, Emily Scarratt, Rachael Burford, Katherine Merchant, Katy McLean, Amy Turner, Rochelle Clark, Amy Garnett, Sophie Hemming, Tamara Taylor, Jo McGilchrist, Sarah Hunter, Margaret Alphonsi, Catherine Merchant
Replacements: Alice Richardson (for Burford 60), Rebecca Essex (for Taylor 65 ) Claire Purdy (for Clark 65), Amber Penrith (for Merchant 70), Emma Croker (for Garnett 70), Sarah Beale (for Spencer 61), Toya Mason (for Turner 61)