By MO BHANA
The match between England and New Zealand was akin to a Premier League football match, everyone was on the edge of their seats.
Unfortunately, it was not to be for England as England’s reign as world champions was ended with a 41-32 victory to New Zealand.
The New Zealand prop Toka Natua scored a hat‑trick of tries and Simon Middleton’s side, whose flankers Marlie Packer and Alex Matthews grafted tirelessly, were second best to a team they had beaten in New Zealand earlier this summer.
England were tipped as favourites to hold on to their World Cup crown but were swept away in the last quarter of the game.
After an early shock, when Winiata sped onto Subritzky-Nafatali’s chip to open the scoring, England looked as though they were going to retain their title.
Their pack had the upper hand at the set-pieces and they mixed up their game, with forwards and backs combining beautifully, to take a 12-point lead with half-time in sight.
They had turned 72% of possession into two tries – Thompson producing a fine finish for the first before a dominant scrum earned a penalty try – and Scarratt’s boot had made it 17-5.
But then came the game’s pivotal moment. England fly-half Katy Mclean, with a three-woman overlap outside her, decided instead to kick from just inside her own half.
The Black Ferns had players back for just such a decision and they mounted a surging, multi-phase counter-attack which ended a minute later with Natua bundling over, and the momentum of the game had changed irreversibly.
England tried to go toe-to-toe with the Black Ferns and they twice regained the lead, the second time courtesy of Thompson as she scorched down the wing, leaving the tournament’s leading try scorer Portia Woodman floundering in her wake.
But, in the 15 minutes that followed England going back in front 25-24, New Zealand – who had 80% possession in the second half – blew the Red Roses away.
Natua went over to complete her hat-trick – the television match official happy she had released and regathered rather than knocking-on – Cocksedge sniped over and Carla Hohepa handed Winiata her second on a plate after another pin-point Subritzky-Nafatali cross-kick.
England’s defence had been demolished and although they rallied to score the final try of a high-class match, there was no doubt that New Zealand are the best side in the world and deserving world champions.
England’s Emily Scarratt, was understandably distraught at full time: “It is unbelievably tough to take. When you come with one goal and get yourself into a position to achieve that, it is bitterly disappointing.
“We played some good rugby in that first half but it’s hard to play well if you don’t have the ball. We will come again in four years’ time. Fair play to New Zealand, they executed their plan better than we did ours.”
England coach Simon Middleton was disappointed with the result, insisting his team “Came here to win. We just could not get possession.
“They played a really smart game. When we did get the ball they had a massive physical presence, they are so good at playing that short game that was the story of the second half.
“We did react, but we literally couldn’t stop them. They were very efficient at keeping the ball. Full credit to them. When you get two great teams together, one is always going to come out on the wrong side.”