Wayne Smith on “the most phenomenal moment of my life”
Women’s Rugby World Cup Final Reaction
The Black Ferns are world champions once again – and the man who guided them to the title has called on New Zealand to capitalise on the moment.
Wayne Smith, who was involved in the men’s Rugby World Cup wins in 2011 and 2015 and was called into the Black Ferns set-up earlier this year, was blown away by the sound of a sellout Eden Park chanting ‘Black Ferns’ as they lifted the trophy for a sixth time and now wants women’s rugby in the country to continue to boom.
“That’s the most phenomenal moment of my life, hearing the ground chanting the names of these girls,” said Smith. “Something has ignited in this country around women’s rugby and we’ve got to make it count. Girls of seven, eight or nine are playing Rippa Rugby but when they get to high school there’s no team or no coach. That’s what we’ve got to get right.”
Amidst the disappointment of the 34-31 defeat, England were keen to point to how positive this tournament has been for the women’s game, with record crowds and big viewing figures.
Sarah Hunter believes the final proves the importance of funding women’s sport, saying: “You can’t expect nations now not to invest in women’s teams when we’ve had a showcase of women’s rugby like that in front of 40-odd thousand people. People have finally woken up to what women’s rugby is about.”
As for the match itself, which saw Lydia Thompson sent off after 18 minutes, both Hunter and Simon Middleton were keen to emphasise their pride in the squad, which has enjoyed a record 30-match winning run.
“I feel much different to five years ago,” said Middleton in reference to the 2017 defeat by New Zealand in Belfast. “I feel hugely positive about what we’ve just witnessed. I couldn’t be prouder of the players and not be more positive about the performance and character shown, the game as a whole and as a spectacle.”
Hunter added: “Sport can be cruel. One thing we said before the final is whatever we do we can be proud of the team and the players and the squad we’ve become. To be a player down for 60 minutes of the game and to keep fighting and be in with a shot right at the very end, I couldn’t ask for more from the girls.
“We can be immensely proud of what we’ve done for the women’s game. It will hurt, you don’t want to lose a World Cup final, especially in the manner we did, but I’m just incredibly proud of what we’ve done as a team.”
Hunter referenced the opportunity to win at the end, as England had a succession of lineouts in the New Zealand 22 in the closing minutes. It looked like their rolling maul might deliver the unlikeliest of triumphs, only for Joanah Ngan-Woo to disrupt Abbie Ward and deny England the ball.
“We’ve had a strategy for six months not to give them any lineouts or penalties – that didn’t work,” said Smith with a wry smile. “We took a risk on that last lineout, the message was sent down for someone to go up. That someone was Joanah Ngan-Woo; she’s a phenomenal athlete, good under pressure and she did the business.”
Of that moment, Middleton said: “They were brave to go up. Sometimes things are written in the stars and I think it has been for the Black Ferns at this tournament.”
Middleton cut a more sombre figure the following day, saying of the World Cup final defeat: “I don’t think you ever get over it, but you live with it don’t you?
“I’m immensely proud of the team and everything they’ve achieved, but when you pitch yourself into high performance you do it to win, there’s always an ultimate goal and we pulled up a little bit short.
“We didn’t get what we came here for and that will be my lasting memory.”
Stacey Fluhler, who played such a pivotal role in the match, revealed afterwards that she’d suffered a suspected broken ankle as she was tackled in the process of setting up a try for Ayesha Leti-I’iga.
“I said I’d break my leg out there for the team and I’ve literally broken my ankle,” she said, still with that famous smile on her face. “Everyone was here to support women’s rugby and support the Black Ferns, and that’s been a dream for a long time.”
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