Ruahei Demant and Sarah Hunter, the respective captains of New Zealand and England, said they hope Saturday’s women’s Rugby World Cup final can “inspire the next generation” after the Black Ferns clinched a sixth title with a thrilling 34-31 victory in Auckland.
It was a spectacular end to a tournament that has broken records for attendances and global interest.
Winger Ayesha Leti-I’iga put New Zealand ahead with their sixth try and they held on in a dramatic finish at Eden Park to halt England’s world-record winning streak at 30 matches.
England played three-quarters of the game with 14 players after winger Lydia Thompson was shown a red card for a head-high tackle but the Red Roses still nearly pulled off victory thanks to the ferocity of their forward play.
Four of England’s five tries came from lineout drives, including a hat-trick for hooker Amy Cokayne, and they were handed a chance to snatch victory in the dying minutes.
However, two lineout drives were repelled by the home team on their tryline and when England knocked on, a record home crowd of 40,000 erupted in noise.
It completed a metamorphosis for New Zealand under veteran former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, who was introduced this year after the Black Ferns were thrashed twice by England a year ago.
Smith had steered the Black Ferns to 11 straight wins but his team were still underdogs against a Red Roses side he labelled one of the best teams in the history of men’s or women’s rugby.
His team stayed true to the breathless, attacking style they had used with success all tournament and it ultimately triumphed over England’s efficient, power-based game, roared on by a world-crowd for women’s rugby.
New Zealand captain Demant said her team’s turnaround in fortunes was one the country should savour.
“I can’t put it into words. All I can say is I’m so proud of our team,” Demant said. “It’s been very challenging, last year we got pumped on the northern tour and we have turned ourselves around. We sacrificed so much to win a World Cup at home and we did it.
“We hope we have inspired the next generation. That was an 80-minute slog. England came in as favourites so massive congratulations to them, they are an awesome team.”
England captain Hunter was understandably disappointed but said her team can leave New Zealand with their heads held high.
“I’m gutted. So proud of the team, we came out fighting. We had our backs against the wall for 60 minutes but we never gave up,” she said. “One result doesn’t define the squad that we are, the people we are. Hopefully we have inspired the next generation back home and given themselves something to be proud of.
“Sport is cruel. Credit to New Zealand they found a way and they go home as deserved champions. We left no stone unturned, we left everything on the pitch. We are hurting.”
Updated: November 12, 2022, 9:18 AM