Rugby World Cup columnist @katymc10
Abby Dow’s length-of-the-pitch try in close battle with Canada showed what England’s backs are capable of if they are given ball time; Red Roses are chomping at the bit to face the Black Ferns on their own patch in Rugby World Cup final
Last Updated: 07/11/22 11:45am
England vs New Zealand is the ultimate in fairytale finals. Given the history between these two sides and their most recent Test victories, the Red Roses have been eager to face the Black Ferns at the iconic Eden Park and to win the World Cup in the backyard of their long-time rivals.
England are now on the verge of realising that dream, with another highly-anticipated showdown between the two heavyweight nations of the women’s game on Saturday morning, the fifth time they will have met in the final.
They may not have expected such a strong challenge as they progressed to the final stage of the competition, but Canada definitely provided Simon Middleton’s side with an almighty test in Saturday’s semi-final. It really could not have come at a better time in my mind, both for the competition itself and for the squad – they really had to earn that final spot and it will have served to sharpen their focus.
You could see the look of relief on the faces of the England players at the final whistle of their thrilling 26-19 victory. It’s rare to see Emily Scarratt throwing her arms in the air in celebration and it was clear that it meant so much to all the girls. It was another box ticked, they stretched the unbeaten run to an incredible 30 matches but I’m sure they all knew they had been in a close battle.
There were uncharacteristic errors from England, which may have been partly due to nerves (as for a few of the players it was their first experience of playing in a World Cup semi-final) but even more experienced players made untypical mistakes. That said, the Red Roses found their way into the match and there were some bright moments, not least the outstanding end-to-end try scored by Abby Dow which will take some beating not to go down as the try of the tournament.
I was on my feet in the commentary box as Dow sprinted 65-metres, gassed her opponent and showed strength to finish a fantastic solo try. I know that I’ve written about this during the earlier stages of the competition, but it’s worth emphasising again – this is a player who had not even played a warm-up match before arriving in New Zealand after breaking her leg in the Six Nations early this year – yet you would not have known it as she gassed her way to the try line in emphatic style.
What I loved about the try, aside from Dow’s finish and Claudia Macdonald’s footwork and pass to get them there, was how brave England were. We had not seen them move the ball in the other end of the 22 in the tournament up to this point, and yet they were behind their goalline when that passage of play started.
England opted against their route one kicking game on this occasion, got their heads up and got their rewards for it. I’ve been quite vocal about the need to unleash some of the backline quality in this squad and that was the standout moment of the game for me.
Scarratt’s kicking to the fore – again
While England’s tactical awareness was one of the key factors behind their progress to the final, you have got to credit Emily Scarratt’s goalkicking ability. Just as David Beckham’s right foot delivered for the England men’s football team over the years, Emily’s right boot has got the Red Roses out of trouble on countless occasions. Alongside Sarah Hunter, they made the right call to take the three points before the break which gave them breathing space at 15-12 and then just after to kick between the posts for a six-point cushion. It was also a mark of respect to Canada for the way they had played too.
Not that Emily will afford herself much credit for the victory as, like many top performers, she’s her own biggest critic. She will be annoyed with some of the uncharacteristic errors she made in that game but you will know for sure that she will produce a stormer of a performance in the final as it’s just her way.
One area England need to improve
Defensively, England were a bit too tight at times against Canada but it was crucial they had that test now before facing the Black Ferns who will also look to target the edges and play their wide game. The comfort for England is that they now have a week to go away, review the footage and neaten up that area of their game.
They will want to make sure they are really clear and confident on how they are going to cover the likes of Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui with all their switches and changes of angle. In the main, England have just got to keep doing what they have been doing throughout the whole tournament, stick to their principles and focus on their own game but these details will be important if they are to dominate New Zealand in the way I believe they are capable of doing.
New Zealand’s hostile crowd won’t trouble England
As the tournament has gone on, the public in New Zealand have increased their support and affection for the Black Ferns. They have really embraced them and it was clear in their desperately-close semi-final win over France how much that means to the players.
England are not a particularly well-liked opponent in most countries, especially a rugby-loving one such as New Zealand, so a packed-out Eden Park will provide a hostile environment for the Red Roses. They will discuss and prepare for that and it’s a factor that I would hope they wouldn’t be too overawed or daunted by. The senior players, of whom there are many, have played plenty of times in similar noisy and intense surroundings in France for previous Six Nations clashes.
Yes, England might only have a small area in the stadium where their friends and family can gather, and the home crowd will do their best to distract the Red Roses but it’s something they are used to and will just add another extra layer to what will be a tasty final and I for one, can’t wait.
England play New Zealand in the Women’s Rugby World Cup final on Saturday at 6.30am