BELFAST, Aug 27, (AFP): New Zealand produced a stunning second-half performance to beat England 41-32 in Belfast and win the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Trailing 17-10 at half-time, the Black Ferns were irresistible after the break, scoring five tries at the Kingspan Stadium to go with their two from the first period as they dethroned the defending champions.
It was a performance not too dissimilar to that of their men’s team, New Zealand’s clinical edge the difference on the scoreboard as prop Toka Natua ended the game with a hat-trick.
England lost Danielle Waterman to concussion earlier in the week, and it was her replacement Megan Jones who squandered the first chance, flicking the ball over the head of Lydia Thompson with the line gaping.
The Red Roses would immediately pay for that wastefulness as New Zealand took the lead, full-back Selica Winiata latching on to a cross-field kick and outpacing Emily Scarratt on her way to the line.
Scarratt hit back with a penalty to open England’s account before the Black Ferns were reduced to 14 following flanker Sarah Goss’ dangerous tackle on Katy McLean.
With an extra body in the pack, England took full advantage, getting the shove on at a five-metre scrum and giving referee Joy Neville no choice but to go under the posts for a penalty try.
Goss’ reintroduction did nothing to stem the England tide, Rachael Burford making the initial incision and a brilliant pass from McLean put Thompson over in the corner.
An all-action clash then saw New Zealand give themselves a lifeline, prop Natua rolling off a tackle at the line and crashing over to reduce the gap to seven points at the interval.
The Black Ferns then took total control on the game’s resumption. Within six minutes of the restart they were level, Natua again the one to touch down after barrelling over from close range. Kendra Cocksedge added her first conversion to tie the game up at 17-17.
Scarratt restored England’s lead with a penalty that needed a kind bounce off the right hand post to go over, before the two teams racked up three tries between them in a frantic spell.
After several drives at the line, Charmaine Smith got the first for New Zealand before Thompson grabbed her second of the game for England, showing great speed to outpace her oppositon defence.
And New Zealand consolidated that lead with another two scores deserving of their second-half performance as Cocksedge got in on the try-scoring action before Winiata’s second gave them an unassailable lead, the full-back sent over by Carla Hohepa.
England did get the final word, replacement Izzy Noel-Smith dotting down from the back of a maul after New Zealand flanker Lesley Ketu was sin binned, but the night belonged to the Black Ferns, who were worthy champions.