England machine derailed by sustained Black Ferns power
Hat-trick of tries by prop Toka Natua helps earn New Zealand a thrilling final victory
New Zealand captain Fiao’o Faamausili, raises the World Cup after victory over England in the final in Belfast. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
New Zealand 41 England 32
A watershed moment like 1995, when professionalism took hold of male rugby, remains some way off.
So where to from here?
San Francisco for many as the great conundrum for the women’s game, and those funding the sport, continues on its unsustainable loop.
The Sevens World Cup in California next July is expected to showcase the marvellous talents of England starlet Emily Scarratt and Kiwi sensation Portia Woodman, but there is no room in that hybrid pursuit for hat-trick prop Toka Natua or brilliant young English tighthead Sarah Bern.
A new (amateur) Super League is about to kick-off in England but the RFU has severed professional contracts for their 15-aside women.
New Zealand, like every other nation, are professional only in spirit and endeavour.
“We breathe rugby back home,” said New Zealand captain Fiao’o Faamausili, who has lost one match, to Ireland in 2014, at five World Cups.
“Whether we are paid or not we are going out there to represent our family, our country and ourselves.”
So the Black Ferns will abide. Their Sevens squad receives similar government funding to the men but 15-aside professionalism is some way off.
“In time that [professionalism] is maybe what it comes to but at this stage it is not,” said New Zealand coach Glenn Moore.
On the field after this epic battle, England’s veteran outhalf Katy McLean was asked if this could be the launch pad into professionalism: “Well, that’s a great idea but we say that after every World Cup. It’s about time it was, rather than people just suggesting it.”
Scarratt agrees: “The final gets aired on prime time free (to air) TV so it would be awesome for that to happen with all our games and not just the biggest one. I know that’s a leap and we have to take the small steps in between but it is growing.
“This is a springboard and we have to make sure the unions grabs hold of this and keep driving it so it doesn’t drop off until the next World Cup when it spikes again. That’s the challenge. It’s not something we control. That is the people behind the games, in the desks doing the posh jobs.”
England, like New Zealand, should be fine but almost every other nation lacks the playing numbers and resources to strike a balance between both codes. Take Ireland, under director of women and Sevens Anthony Eddy, who got it disastrously wrong at this tournament yet both Sevens squads, men and women, have qualified for San Francisco.
“I don’t think Sevens is stymieing 15s,” said England coach Simon Middleton. “We have to see Sevens for what it is – a huge part of the women’s game. Women’s rugby is not like men’s in terms of profile so we’ve got to take every avenue to promote it. The Olympics provides huge promotion for the game. We want to see Sevens and 15s as their own entities but going forward we have to cut our cloth accordingly.”
What probably needs to happen when the current generation retires is a redirection into professional coaching and the “posh jobs” to ensure ownership of their game can be achieved. That’s the long road towards equality.
In the meantime, we witnessed this English machine derailed by wave upon crashing wave of blackness. New Zealand are world champions again, having ruthlessly snatched the cup from this immensely talented yet ageing English side (seven of their squad are 30-plus) in a style that must have made the early rising Kiwis rouse the rest of the population.
Come see our girls cook the Poms.
Not even the almost flawless Scarratt or the brutality of Sarah Hunter’s pack could resist the pace and relentless drive from Faamausili’s wonder women.
The Black Ferns drew first blood in an electrifying affair when a crossfield punt by outhalf Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali was rolling towards Scarratt only to suddenly skid into Selica Winiata’s hands.
The fullback glided away as Scarratt’s ankle stayed and turned in the turf. Disaster for England on both counts was avoided when their great centre, at 15 on this night, strapped the ligaments and soldiered on.
Before the first half was done, Scarratt landed on the same leg from a height. Not only did she tentatively rise but she slotted a penalty to make it 5-3 with 15 minutes played.
On 19 minutes the contest turned England’s way when Kiwi openside Sarah Goss was harshly sin-binned by referee Joy Neville. The former Ireland number eight, from the 2013 Grand Slam side, has a natural feel for the game and on first glance did not penalise Goss for flipping McLean in the tackle. The yellow card only appeared after Neville conferred with Television Match Official Simon McDowell.
The openside returned to a 10-5 deficit following a penalty try off England’s monstrous scrum and it was 17-5 before New Zealand could get their slick paws near the ball again.
But the Black Ferns levelled matters at 17-17 with surging scores by Natua and a third try from lock Charmain Smith. Their wily scrumhalf Kendra Cocksedge finally discovered her kicking groove to construct a 24-20 lead (Scarratt kept England afloat with a penalty).
Then came a wonder try as Thompson turned to gather a chip near halfway, ducked the first Kiwi tackler before out sprinting Woodman down the tram line.
But the Red Roses wilted as Natua speared through the English ruck, was felled but bounced up to claim her hat-trick.
New Zealand kept unloading bullets with Cocksedge and Winiata tries perhaps showing an English side drained after a monumental defensive display to repel France four days earlier.
Scoring sequence – 7 mins: S Winiata try, 5-0; 15 mins: E Scarratt pen, 5-3; 24 mins: Pen try, 5-10; 31 mins: L Thompson try, 5-15; E Scarratt con, 5-17; 38 mins: T Natua try, 10-17. Half-time. 44 mins: T Natua try, 15-17; K Cocksedge con, 17-17; 50 mins: E Scarratt pen, 17-20; 52 mins: C Smith try, 22-20; K Cocksedge con, 24-20; L Thompson try, 24-25; 57 mins: T Natua try, 29-25; K Cocksedge con, 31-25; 62 mins: K Cocksedge try, 36-25; 69 mins: S Winiata try, 41-25; I Noel-Smith try, 41-30; E Scarratt con, 41-32.
ENGLAND: E Scarratt; L Thompson, M Jones, R Burford, K Wilson; K McLean, N Hunt; V Cornborough, A Cokayne, S Bern; A Scott, T Taylor; A Matthews, M Packer, S Hunter (capt). Replacements: A Reed for R Burford (54 mins), V Fleetwood for A Cokayne, R Clark for V Cornborough, J Lucas for S Bern (all 56 mins), I Noel-Smith for M Packer (59 mins), LT Mason for N Hunt (60 mins), H Millar-Mills for T Taylor (64 mins), A Wilson-Hardy for L Thompson (71 mins).
NEW ZEALAND: S Winiata; P Woodman, S Waaka, K Brazier, R Wickliffe; V Subritzky-Nafatali, K Cocksedge; T Natua, F Faamausili (capt), A Itunu; E Blackwell, C Smith; C McMenamin, S Goss, A Savage.
Replacements: B Wood for E Blackwell (27-33 mins, 74 mins), C Hohepa for R Wickliffe (59 mins), T Fitzpatrick for S Waaka (64 mins), A Nelson for A Itunu (67 mins), L Ketu for S Goss (71 mins), T Talawadua for T Natua, TK Ngata-Aerengamente for F Faamausili (77 mins), K Sue for K Cocksedge (79 mins).
Sin bin: S Goss (19-29 mins), L Ketu (77-80 mins)
Referee: J Neville (Ireland).