The hosts triumph after Red Roses reduced to 14 players for more than an hour


New Zealand 34-31 England: Black Ferns are world champions

More than 42,000 people packed out Eden Park for one of the great Rugby World Cup finals. It had everything – drama, intensity, thrilling skills, a capacity crowd, a result that was up in the air until the final whistle…

The match ebbed and flowed from one end to the other and England looked like they may pull off the most remarkable of victories having been reduced to 14 players for more than an hour, but in the end it was New Zealand who had the remarkable story.

Having been humbled by the Red Roses and France a year ago, they turned the tables in the final and are world champions once more. A year-long comeback, if you will.

Related: Women’s Rugby World Cup Final Reaction

We’ll never know what might have happened had England kept 15 players on the pitch for the whole match, although they certainly were commanding when at their full complement, and they were hugely competitive despite having a numerical disadvantage for such a long period of the match – and even had chances to win it in the closing minutes.

In fact, the Black Ferns led for only 13 minutes of the game, but of course they were in front at the most important time – when Hollie Davidson blew the final whistle with the score 34-31. That brought to an end England’s 30-match winning run and gave the Black Ferns their sixth world title. They also became the first women’s side to win the World Cup on home soil.

Black Ferns are world champions

England came out of the blocks at Eden Park at warp speed, putting New Zealand on the backfoot with the speed of their attack. Zoe Aldcroft provided quick ball from the top of a lineout and it was spread wide through Holly Aitchison to Abby Dow, who made decent ground before the ball was recycled and came back the opposite way, where Emily Scarratt found Ellie Kildunne in space and she went over in the corner.

Black Ferns are world champions

Ellie Kildunne crosses for the opening try of the final (AFP/Getty Images)

Their second try, in the 13th minute, was of the more traditional English variety at this World Cup. England kicked for touch from a penalty and set the maul around Abbie Ward, with Amy Cokayne touching down at the back.

At 14-0, it was looking good for the Red Roses – then Lydia Thompson was sent off for a head-on-head tackle on Portia Woodman. England would play for more than an hour with just 14 players.

The Black Ferns were quick to take advantage, with Georgia Ponsonby scoring from a maul set up from the resulting penalty, but England drew on their biggest strength when Maiakawanakaulani Roos fumbled the restart. The Red Roses got their maul going from a lineout on the 22-metre line and rolled it 22-plus metres for Marlie Packer to score.

The space was starting to appear for the Black Ferns, though, especially when they spread the ball wide, and Ayesha Leti-I’iga was the beneficiary in the 24th minute as England’s lead was reduced to five points.

Renee Holmes thought she’d levelled the scores when she intercepted a pass in the 22 and sprinted the length of the field, but the referee had blown for an England penalty and from that lineout Cokayne rolled over the line.

A 26-14 lead at the break would have been welcomed by England given their numerical disadvantage but they leaked another try just before the break, Amy Rule breaking off the back of a maul to cut that lead to seven points.

It was down to just two within 36 seconds of the second half as Stacey Fluhler went over after a brilliant break from deep in her own half and neat interchange with Holmes and then New Zealand took the lead for the first time in the 49th minute when Krystal Murray barged over in the corner.

Black Ferns are world champions

Stacey Fluhler scores early in the second half (Getty Images)

It didn’t last for long, though, as an England penalty at the scrum resulted in another kick to the corner and another try for Cokayne. She has now scored hat-tricks in her last two matches against the Black Ferns having become the first England player (male or female) to do so against New Zealand last autumn.

There were just two points in it going into the last 20 minutes, England holding a 31-29 lead, and they would play half of that period with the same number of players as their opponents. Kennedy Simon was sin-binned for a high tackle on Abby Dow in the 65th minute, the back-rower making initial contact on the shoulder before riding up to hit Dow’s head.

That came a couple of minutes after England had held out several waves of black shirts on their line by winning a penalty for holding on. The Black Ferns had dominated territory and possession at the start of that third quarter but hadn’t managed to get the breakthrough.

That did come in the 72nd minute, when a change of decision over a lineout by the officials saw New Zealand get the throw in England’s half. The Black Ferns spread it wide, a Theresa Fitzpatrick kick through was pounced on by Fluhler and while she was hauled down short of the line by Kildunne, she offloaded to Leti-I’iga for her second. Holmes missed the conversion but New Zealand had a three-point lead going into the final eight minutes.

A decision to take a quick tap from a penalty nearly came back to bite New Zealand when they were penalised for a neck roll and England set up a series of lineouts in the 22 as the Black Ferns continued to infringe.

It looked like the Red Roses might snatch victory with what has been such a huge strength of their game, but it wasn’t to be. Abbie Ward couldn’t take possession cleanly at the final lineout when under pressure from NZ’s jumper Joanah Ngan-Woo, Murray managed to secure the ball and the chance was gone – as was their dream of lifting the trophy.

New Zealand were champions again – and it really was incredible to hear the majority of the 42,579 crowd chanting ‘Black Ferns’ after the country’s women’s team was so woefully under-resourced and under-funded and under-valued until this year.

Head to our Rugby World Cup hub page for all the latest from New Zealand. 

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