Hosts England stand in the way of a fouth title for New Zealand’s Black Ferns when the Women’s Rugby World Cup ends on sunday at the Twickenham Stoop, home for Premiership side Harlequins.
New Zealand overran France 45-7 while England knocked out Australia 15-0 in the semi-finals.
The last two finals have both been against England, each of them tight affairs with the Black Ferns coming out on top 19-9 in Barcelona in 2001 – thanks to tries from Monique Hirovanaa and Cheryl Waaka – and then 25-17 four years later in Canada with Amiria Rule’s late try the decisive score. Rule was replaced by Anna Richard who is a few months shy of her 46th birthday.
The crowd at The Stoop could be 10,000 but the global audience runs into millions of viewers and Richard told rwcwomens.com that the match would not be easy. “There’s a huge challenge ahead,” she acknowledged. “They’re a worthy opponent and I think what they have done for Women’s Rugby and they have been improving and they’re a great challenge,” admitted Richards, who will start her fourth match of the tournament in an unchanged Black Ferns starting line up.
“I think they bring the best out in us and I hope we bring the best out in them and hopefully it’s going to be a very, very good final. I think it will definitely be a great final. It’s going to be about ball possession. You’ve got to be tough against the English because they are fit and strong and what we need to do is be ball tough and produce some quality ball for our backline.”
A talented backline featuring Kelly Brazier and Huriana Manuel outside her and a dangerous back three of Renee Wickliffe, IRB Women’s Personality of the Year 2010 nominee Carla Hohepa and full back Victoria Grant is good company for Richards.
On the opposite end is another veteran, Amy Garnett the 34-year-old England hooker, playing in her fourth Women’s Rugby World Cup and will win her 91st cap against New Zealand, after being part of the England side which went down to New Zealand 19-9 in Spain in 2002, and then lost out 25-17 to the same opposition four years later in Canada.
“It’s a bit surreal actually, it doesn’t actually feel like it’s here. I think we’ve had so much preparation and it feels like we’ve been in camp and away from home for months, even though we haven’t. So just looking forward to the game,” she said.
England will need every bit of conditioning and preparation as they look to deprive an at times rampant Black Ferns side a fourth consecutive Women’s Rugby World Cup. Despite racking up some convincing scorelines during the course of this World Cup, it is England’s defence which has been the backbone of their route to the final, culminating in Wednesday’s 15-0 shut out of Australia.
The USA remain the only side at this World Cup to have breached the England try-line, a feat they managed twice in their Pool B meeting on day three. “They’re a threat from 1-22 – they’re a phenomenal side. You’ve got be a phenomenal side to have won the World Cup three times,” she said. “They’ve all been playing since they were youngsters, they’ve got great running backs and physically powerful forwards, so I don’t think there’s much of a weakness. We’re expecting a battle, we’re expecting a big fight up front. “We’ve just got to keep solid in defence and keep pushing for the line, and it’s probably all down to who wants it the most on the day. Mentally you’ve got to be on your best game, but it’s difficult to know what’s going to make the difference.
“It’s difficult to know [how the game will pan out], we can only be as best prepared as we can and hopefully we can deal with whatever the Black Ferns bring to us.”
After suffering a 15-0 defeat to England in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 semi finals, Australia now play France in the third place. To finish third Australia have to beat Christian Galonnier’s France, who themselves suffered a 45-7 defeat to the Black Ferns in the first of the two semi finals on 1 September, having reached that stage with a 23-8 victory over Canada in Pool C.
South Africa play Wales for the second time in the 9th and 10th place play-off. South Africa won the first match 15-10.