All the latest from the Women's World Cup in Belfast
It’s the final that was predicted but also the final that everyone wanted to see. England will play New Zealand at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Saturday night.
England‘s game against France was an enthralling battle that highlighted just how competitive women’s rugby can be. It was 3-3 at half-time, with Emily Scarratt and Shannon Izar slotting penalties, and the French had played the more threatening rugby as they punished England’s ill-discipline.
The defending champions started the second half strongly, however, and it was they who were working through the phases deep in opposition territory rather than the French. First Scarratt slotted another penalty and then Sarah Bern barrelled over after a series of pick-and-gos close to the French line.
Megan Jones, who had pulled off a brilliant try-saving tackle on Julie Annery on the hour mark, added gloss to the victory with a try in the final minute as France spilt the wall when they tried to attack from behind their own line. In the end, England won 20-3 to reach their fifth successive final.
Captain Sarah Hunter believes England’s rotation policy during the tournament will pay dividends in the final. “I’m ecstatic to get to another World Cup final,” she said. “It will take another step up on Saturday. We still have something left in the tank and that’s what you need in a World Cup final.”
And head coach Simon Middleton paid tribute to his squad’s calmness under pressure against France. “They are the last group to panic,” he said. “They know when to step up, they have been in a lot of tough situations this year and have come out on the right side of them all. Now we have one more to do.”
The one concern for England is whether Danielle Waterman will be fit for the final. The full-back went off for an HIA in the first half and didn’t return to the pitch. It is unlikely she would be able to pass the head injury protocols to be fit for Saturday’s game against New Zealand given the short turnaround.
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The Black Ferns’ passage to the final was somewhat easier than England’s as they ran in seven tries against the USA, Portia Woodman scoring four of them in a 45-12 win. The States were competitive and scored a couple of decent tries of their own, with their back three particularly impressive, but were overwhelmed in the final quarter.
Having been part of the New Zealand side that failed to reach the last four in 2014, centre Kelly Brazier is delighted to be playing in the final this time. “It’s pretty special,” she said. “I was there in 2014 when we missed out and that feeling never goes. We’re all excited to be in the final and hopefully we can win that cup again.”
Woodman believes the team have improved since losing to England, who are slight favourites to win the final when looking at the Sportingbet odds, in Rotorua in the summer and said: “We’ve had such a long time together now and we’ve worked on things that didn’t go right in the June series. We’re not peaking yet.”
The good news for both teams is that the match will be broadcast live on ITV and 5live, which should engage an even larger audience with women’s rugby.
“We want to showcase our sport to the widest audience possible and to get prime time support is great,” said Hunter.
In the day’s other play-offs, Ireland lost 36-24 to Australia while Wales were humbled 52-0 by Canada. The Irish and Welsh will now play off for seventh place in the opening game at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday while Canada and the Wallaroos will battle it out for fifth place.
Japan and Hong Kong will play off for 11th place after losing to Italy (22-0) and Spain (31-7) respectively, and the two European teams will battle for 9th place.
Italy 22-0 Japan
Ireland 24-36 Australia
Spain 31-7 Hong Kong
Canada 52-0 Wales
New Zealand 45-12 USA
England 20-3 France
FIXTURES – SATURDAY 26 AUGUST
Japan v Hong Kong (noon, Queen’s University)
Ireland v Wales (2pm, Kingspan)
Italy v Spain (2.30pm, Queen’s University)
Australia v Canada (5pm, Queen’s University)
France v USA (5pm, Kingspan)
England v New Zealand (7.45pm, Kingspan, Live on ITV & 5live)