Two teams. Forty six players. Eighty minutes. One World Cup trophy. After nearly two weeks of scintillating women’s rugby, England and New Zealand emerged as the Rugby World Cup finalists, and as the two teams ran out on a clear Belfast evening, the stage was set for perhaps the greatest final yet.
The Red Roses have reached the World Cup final after overcoming a strong French side 20 – 3.
On a wet evening in Belfast, the two Six Nations opponents traded early blows, but it was the French who got off to the best start, putting the Red Roses under immense pressure in their own half. However, the English defence held firm and kept France out.
The Red Roses have booked their place in the World Cup semi-finals with a 47 – 26 win over the USA in their final pool match. Tries from McLean, Scarratt, Packer (2), Wilson Hardy and Cokayne, plus a penalty try, saw England safely through to the knock-out stages, but their opponents are also through after scoring a late bonus-point try.
Red Roses coach Simon Middleton has made six changes to the side which beat Italy three days ago as England look to advance into the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Regular skipper Sarah Hunter returns to the starting line-up at Number 8, while Alex Matthews and Marlie Packer, who both had storming games against Italy, complete the back row.
England scored another ten tries in their second World Cup pool match against Italy on Sunday afternoon, although a series of handling errors took the sheen off the win and left them with plenty to work on.
In fact they could have had two or three tries in the opening minutes, but knock-ons from Marlie Packer and Amy Wilson Hardy, both with the try-line in their sights, meant England came up with nothing to show for their early dominance.
The Red Roses have brought in ten new players to the match-day squad ahead of their second World Cup pool match against Italy.
Emily Scarratt returns to the starting line-up at outside centre and replaces Sarah Hunter as captain, while in the halves Natasha Hunt and Amber Reed replace Riley and McLean. Rachael Burford, who impressed on the June tour of New Zealand, gets a start in the centres, while on the wing Amy Wilson Hardy returns to the team for the first time since the Six Nations.
England have started their World Cup defence in the best possible way as they eased to a 56 – 5 win in their opening match against Spain. They ran in ten tries, four of them to wing Kay Wilson who was once again in prolific form.
The Red Roses were out of the blocks early, their first score coming barely a minute into the match when young centre Megan Jones burst through a weak Spanish tackle and then stepped past the full back to score under the posts. McLean converted and England were off to the perfect start.