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England see off France to set up New Zealand decider

USA test New Zealand but come up short, as England grind French into submission

France’s Julie Annery is tackled by England’s Sarah Bern. Annery crosses the line but the try is disallowed. Photograph: Getty Images

France may have saved the Women’s Rugby World Cup from mediocrity and duopoly but the Black Ferns and Red Roses will contest this Saturday’s final at Kingspan stadium (kick-off 7.45pm).

The scoreline says otherwise but New Zealand were tested by USA before running out 45-12 victors while England grinded the French into submission on a sodden Belfast night.

The difference, in the end, was professionalism. England are the only side that have players living off full-time contracts.

But France, inspired by fullback Montserrat Amedee and number eight Safi N’Diaye attempted the magical every time they attacked. They reached the hour mark trailing 6-3 before Sarah Bern powered the world champions into an unassailable lead.

The great Emily Scarratt added the extras in a 20-3 win that will be remembered for exquisite ball handling and defensive excellence.

England beat New Zealand in June but the Black Ferns still returned to number one in the world during a tournament with one overriding concern.

Forcing 28 woman squads to play five test matches in 17 days remains a player welfare concern.

It just seems so cruel, and the most stunningly effective attacker on show agrees. “I’d like to see the men play a tournament like this,”said Portia Woodman after a four try display against the US took her tally up to 13 in four matches. “They probably wouldn’t handle it as well as we do. If possible it would be nice to have a few more days at the end. To get some quality rugby we need to get some quality recovery days in.”

Only 13,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s final, the third-fourth place playoff and Ireland versus Wales (playing for seventh) but tournament director Garrett Tubridy expects the incoming English invasion to bring Kingspan close to capacity.

“There has been unprecedented TV interest,” said Tubridy. “Especially in France. Over three million were watching the Ireland game on France 2. We expect the France v England game to break that record.

“When we started out on the journey we didn’t expect as much interest as we have got. Also, the ticket exchange in UCD raised €15,000 for the IRFU charitable trust and we got an extra thousand fans into games, which meant full stadiums for the Ireland games.”

The obvious disappointment has been the hosts. And four day turnarounds between games making it all but impossible for anyone to trouble the established order.