Red Roses vs Black Ferns: A rivalry with revenge on the mind


We look at the story behind the biggest rivalry in women’s rugby union, as England’s Red Roses get ready to face New Zealand’s Black Ferns in the Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park in Auckland; from lop-sided beginnings to a World Cup history with revenge on the mind; and on the cards?

By Michael Cantillon

Last Updated: 08/11/22 3:37pm

We look at the biggest rivalry in women's rugby, as the Red Roses get ready to face the Black Ferns in the World Cup final We look at the biggest rivalry in women's rugby, as the Red Roses get ready to face the Black Ferns in the World Cup final

We look at the biggest rivalry in women’s rugby, as the Red Roses get ready to face the Black Ferns in the World Cup final

There have only been two multiple winners of the Women’s Rugby World Cup: England’s Red Roses and New Zealand’s Black Ferns. On Saturday, they meet at Eden Park for the latest World Cup final…

There have been eight World Cups to date, and the Black Ferns have picked up a sensational five titles – in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2017.

During the same timeframe, the Red Roses have clinched the ultimate prize twice, in 1994 and 2014.

It is the big rivalry in women’s rugby, and Simon Middleton’s squad, led by Sarah Hunter, face the task of taking on New Zealand on their home soil. Although they do so on a record-breaking winning run and as favourites.

Star player Emily Scarratt, skipper Sarah Hunter and head coach Simon Middleton are central figures in the Red Roses' drive to succeed and win Star player Emily Scarratt, skipper Sarah Hunter and head coach Simon Middleton are central figures in the Red Roses' drive to succeed and win

Star player Emily Scarratt, skipper Sarah Hunter and head coach Simon Middleton are central figures in the Red Roses’ drive to succeed and win

Lop-sided beginnings

They may be the two best sides in the world, but the beginning to this rivalry was rather one-sided.

Indeed, the nations first met in a Test in August 1997, south of Christchurch in Burnham, with England suffering a 67-0 annihilation.

Over the next 12 years, England would suffer a run of 11 consecutive defeats to New Zealand without tasting victory – five in New Zealand, five on neutral territory and once at home.

England may be a powerhouse in women's rugby today, but they lost their first 11 Tests vs New Zealand between 1998 and 2009 England may be a powerhouse in women's rugby today, but they lost their first 11 Tests vs New Zealand between 1998 and 2009

England may be a powerhouse in women’s rugby today, but they lost their first 11 Tests vs New Zealand between 1998 and 2009

The meetings steadily became much tighter over time, though, as 60-plus point losses turned into five-point defeats.

November 21, 2009 saw the Red Roses register their maiden victory over New Zealand, winning 10-3 at Twickenham to much celebration.

From then, the record between the pair is far more even: with England winning seven, New Zealand winning seven, and one Test drawn from 15 matches between 2009 and Saturday’s World Cup final.

They have unequivocally become the two strongest sides in the world, and in recent times it is the Red Roses who have the upper hand.

The autumn of 2021 saw England record two dominant wins over their struggling adversaries: 43-12 in Exeter and 56-15 in Northampton.

Such has been New Zealand’s drop off in recent years, their rugby public did not expect them to reach the final. Since the last World Cup final in 2017, the Kiwis have been beaten four times by France and twice by England, losing four on the trot – twice vs France, twice vs England – last November.

England captain Hunter has led her side to an incredible world record of 30 wins in a row England captain Hunter has led her side to an incredible world record of 30 wins in a row

England captain Hunter has led her side to an incredible world record of 30 wins in a row

England, by contrast, have gone on an incredible world-record run of 30 consecutive Test victories, and have not lost since July 2019.

The final may be a case of ‘beware the wounded animal’. But if England play to their maximum, they will become world champions on Saturday, irrespective of the Black Ferns’ home advantage. And that would add another chapter to this great rivalry.

The Red Roses have spoken consistently of wanting to emulate football's Lionesses and their Euros title win The Red Roses have spoken consistently of wanting to emulate football's Lionesses and their Euros title win

The Red Roses have spoken consistently of wanting to emulate football’s Lionesses and their Euros title win

A World Cup history with revenge on the mind; and on the cards?

From eight World Cup campaigns, England have won two titles and had their participation – and often dreams – remarkably ended on five separate occasions by the Black Ferns.

Not only that, but New Zealand have previously beaten England in four World Cup finals (2002, 2006, 2010, 2017), in addition to a semi-final before that (1998). A painful bit of history for the Red Roses to reflect on, no doubt.

New Zealand picked up their first Women's Rugby World Cup success in 2002, beating England in the final New Zealand picked up their first Women's Rugby World Cup success in 2002, beating England in the final

New Zealand picked up their first Women’s Rugby World Cup success in 2002, beating England in the final

The only time England were knocked out of a World Cup by anyone other than New Zealand, was the inaugural 1991 tournament, when they lost the final 19-6 to the USA in Cardiff.

In 1998, the Black Ferns dispatched England 44-11 in Amsterdam at the semi-final stage, while, four years later, New Zealand beat England 19-9 in the 2002 World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona.

The 2006 World Cup final at the Commonwealth Stadium in Canada saw New Zealand win again, picking up a 25-17 victory over the Red Roses.

In 2006, the Black Ferns once again proved too strong for England in the World Cup final in Canada In 2006, the Black Ferns once again proved too strong for England in the World Cup final in Canada

In 2006, the Black Ferns once again proved too strong for England in the World Cup final in Canada

The 2010 World Cup saw the Black Ferns defeat England 13-10 in the final, a loss made all the more gut-wrenching by the fact it was at The Stoop with the Red Roses tournament hosts.

The Black Ferns clinched their third World Cup triumph at England's home tournament in 2010 The Black Ferns clinched their third World Cup triumph at England's home tournament in 2010

The Black Ferns clinched their third World Cup triumph at England’s home tournament in 2010

2014 saw England win a second title at long last, but did so having avoided the Black Ferns after Ireland produced a shock 17-14 win over the three-time defending champions to knock them out in the Paris suburb of Marcoussis.

England finally secured their second Rugby World Cup title in 2014, but avoided the Black Ferns en route to doing so England finally secured their second Rugby World Cup title in 2014, but avoided the Black Ferns en route to doing so

England finally secured their second Rugby World Cup title in 2014, but avoided the Black Ferns en route to doing so

The most recent World Cup final in 2017 saw New Zealand kill English hope and confidence stone dead in the final, racing away to a 41-32 win at Ravenhill in Belfast.

Has one nation ever been more responsible for as many near misses by another in a World Cup format in sport?

England’s Red Roses will have revenge on their minds for sure.

The last World Cup final in 2017 saw the Black Ferns cruise past England 41-32 in Belfast The last World Cup final in 2017 saw the Black Ferns cruise past England 41-32 in Belfast

The last World Cup final in 2017 saw the Black Ferns cruise past England 41-32 in Belfast

Out of England’s squad of 32 for this World Cup, eight players endured the heart-breaking World Cup final defeat in 2017 – which was made all the more painful by the fact England had travelled down and beaten New Zealand on Kiwi soil two months before the World Cup.

Star back Emily Scarratt, winger Lydia Thompson, loosehead Vickii Cornborough, hooker Amy Cokayne, tighthead Sarah Bern, flankers Alex Matthews and Marlie Packer and No 8 Sarah Hunter all started that final in Belfast, and will feel a particular hunger to make-up for that defeat.

It is there for the taking. Now it is up to this Red Roses squad to succeed where so many others have failed before.

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