England’s winning streak came to an end in the most important game of all as New Zealand won the World Cup for a sixth time on a historic night for women’s rugby at Eden Park.
In what has to be one of the most dramatic World Cup finals of all time, the Red Roses went down to 14 players when Lydia Thompson was shown a red card in the 18th minute and led for most of the game.
England had lost four previous finals to New Zealand and their hearts were broken once again as Ayesha Leti-I’iga’s try regained a three-point lead for the hosts with nine minutes remaining.
The Red Roses had a chance at victory with one last line-out — their most potent weapon all tournament — with the clock in the red but lost their throw to the delight of a ferocious record crowd for a women’s game of 42,579.
Delight on the face of New Zealand’s players and fans alike was in sharp contrast to the England players, who stood tearfully with heads in hands as they reflected on the fact that their record 30-Test winning streak had ended when it mattered most.
As a full Eden Park roared its support of the pre-game haka, with England spread across the pitch and staring back non-plussed, it was clear this would be a day that women’s rugby fans would remember for years to come.
Both sides saw the opportunity in front of them to send their sport stratospheric and delivered pure entertainment from start to finish.
England started at pace, giving New Zealand a taste of their own running game. They spread New Zealand wide and Emily Scarratt found Ellie Kildunne for the opening try.
There was enough action in the first 10 minutes for three finals and Amy Cokayne — who was called up to a Black Ferns camp as a teenager before choosing England — soon went over for her first of three tries in the Red Roses’ trademark driving maul.
More drama came as a high tackle by Thompson on record World Cup try-scorer Portia Woodman resulted in the red card.
New Zealand had relied on their unpredictable backline play in previous rounds but proved they could maul too as Georgia Ponsonby went over following a line-out immediately after.
Another England maul try — this time for Marlie Packer — prompted another Black Ferns response, with the Red Roses caught short as Leti-I’iga ran through plenty of open space to score her first try.
Again England turned to their pack, another try for Cokayne, as England’s focus collided with New Zealand’s chaos and Black Ferns prop Amy Rule closed out the half by peeling off the back of a maul to go over and make the score 26-19 in England’s favour at half-time.
New Zealand break English hearts again
England captain Sarah Hunter still holds the pain of their 2017 final defeat by New Zealand, but after such a promising start it seemed as though she might finally get retribution.
The Black Ferns felt differently. They suffered two record defeats by England in 2021, prompting their union to take action. The players were made professional earlier in 2022 — joining England who have had that status since 2019 — and two-time men’s World Cup-winning coach Smith was brought in to lead the side.
The effect of those changes was evident. Stacey Fluhler ran out of her own 22 and sent Scarratt the wrong way. The centre combined with Renee Holmes to go over before the full-back missed a conversion that would have tied the scores. Suddenly England struggled to contain New Zealand’s backline and as the pressure mounted in their 22, Krystal Murray barged through Lucy Packer to put the Black Ferns ahead for the first time.
Such is England’s faith in their driving maul, Zoe Harrison opted to kick for the corner instead of take a penalty that would have tied the game again.
The Red Roses were rewarded as Cokayne completed her hat-trick before New Zealand joined England on 14 players because Kennedy Simon was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Abby Dow, who left the field for a head injury assessment.
Then came the Black Ferns’ final and decisive strike. Theresa Fitzpatrick kicked ahead for Fluhler, who superbly offloaded the ball as she fell to the floor to send Leti-I’iga over and put New Zealand ahead again.
Again, England had the chance to tie the scores with a penalty and again they kicked to the corner. This time, perhaps for the first time at this World Cup, their line-out let them down and New Zealand regained the ball to become champions for a sixth time.
During the week, New Zealand’s star wing Ruby Tui had reminded journalists that there was a time when nobody knew who the Black Ferns were.
The image of them lifting the trophy as a full Eden Park chanted their name, before they performed a haka for their adoring fans, can definitely be filed under iconic.
‘The cruelty of sport’
Katy Daley-Mclean, England’s 2014 World Cup-winning captain on BBC Radio 5 Live:
England had relied on the line-out drive all game and that is just the cruelty of sport.
I thought the decision to take Sarah Hunter and Marlie Packer off was big. All those calls are brilliant if they come off but get scrutinised if they don’t. New Zealand won that game — I don’t think England lost it.
New Zealand have won all six games they have played against England in a World Cup. It is just the story of us as a nation and it has come back and bit us again.
‘The greatest final in
World Cup history’
Kat Merchant, 2014 England World Cup winner on BBC Radio 5 Live:
It has to be the greatest final in World Cup history. I am going to start crying here.
What a game. I think everybody here will have emotional trauma.
Both teams stood up, but New Zealand came out fighting when they needed to.
There will be so much heartbreak for the England players — and it is the cruellest thing about sport. It is truly a horrid moment. I have been there. What a performance from England with 14 players. New Zealand just know how to win finals.
England: Kildunne; Thompson, Scarratt, Aitchison, Dow; Harrison, L Packer; Cornborough, Cokayne, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, M Packer, Hunter (capt).
Replacements: Davies, Muir, Brown, O’Donnell, Cleall, Kabeya, MacDonald, Heard.
New Zealand: Holmes; Tui, Fluhler, Fitzpatrick, Woodman; Demant (capt), Cocksedge; Love, Ponsonby, Rule, Roos, C Bremner, A Bremner, Hirini, McMenamin.
Replacements: Connor, Murray, Taumata, Ngan-Woo, Simon, Bayler, Tubic, Leti-I’iga. — BBCSport