Rugby World Cup: ‘Scare that defied all expectations’ means England ‘will be ready for final’


A Rugby World Cup semi-final at fabled Test venue Eden Park; a tight scoreline; six tries, one of which was glorious – England’s victory against Canada had everything.

In a World Cup that has sometimes lacked the jeopardy required to take women’s rugby to the next level, amateur side Canada gave England a scare that defied all expectations.

Shortly after, New Zealand beat France 25-24 in an even more thrilling semi-final to set up a repeat of the 2017 final that the Black Ferns won.

England head coach Simon Middleton said he would “100%” rather have such a good advert for the game than an easy semi-final.

“You don’t want anything other than a fantastic game and spectacle,” he added.

“The 46 players who were involved in it deserve all the credit because they were absolutely magnificent today.

“If we’d have had an easy semi-final, we wouldn’t have been ready for next week. We will be ready for next week now.”

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Dow try ‘a magical moment in sport’

After England’s victory served as the appetiser, New Zealand and France put on an even better show for the Eden Park crowd.

The two sides traded scores until the Black Ferns edged to a 25-24 lead in the 66th minute and managed to hold on when France fly-half Caroline Drouin missed a penalty that would have clinched victory before the final whistle.

If the thrilling scorelines are not enough to draw new fans to women’s rugby, the individual stars will surely help.

Abby Dow is already well known in English rugby for her finishing ability and she has now stamped that on the world game.

After England survived a period of pressure, Claudia MacDonald – who thought a neck injury had ended her rugby career a year ago – made a bold run from behind her tryline.

She cut through several defenders and found Dow, who made it to the World Cup despite a surgeon telling her she would not return from a broken leg in time.

Dow looked as if she had been made stronger by the adversity as she powered ahead for what will surely become an iconic World Cup try.

“Whether we won or lost, that was one of those magical moments in sport,” Middleton said.

“It should be celebrated – it’s incredible the journey she’s been on.”

England survived a bruising encounter, but they may have lost some players along the way.

Prop Hannah Botterman looks set to miss next Saturday’s final with a knee injury, while full-back Helena Rowland was on crutches after being taken from the pitch on a stretcher.

In more welcome news, Middleton suggested replacement scrum-half Lucy Packer is expected to have recovered from an ankle injury in time for the final.

Middleton said his side showed “immense character” and they will need more of the same if they are to claim a first world title since 2014 against the side that took the crown from England in the 2017 final.

The head coach would not say that he wanted the Black Ferns to win their semi-final, but did acknowledge: “We came here and celebrated New Zealand getting the World Cup because it gave us a shot at trying to achieve the ultimate goal for any rugby player which is to win a World Cup in the backyard of the world champions.”

Canada ‘want to be professional’

England were made to work extremely hard to have the chance to dethrone New Zealand.

Canada are an amateur side but packed the punch required to level the score at 12-12 after 35 minutes.

Even after England wings MacDonald and Dow combined for a superb try that would silence even the most determined opposition, Canada fought back and were within four points with 10 minutes left.

The Red Roses have been professional since 2019 and are one of four sides in the World Cup with that status alongside New Zealand, Wales and France.

Canada lost 51-12 to England a year ago, but thanks to more time together in camp they reduced that scoreline to 26-19 this time.

“We want to be professional,” captain Sophie de Goede said.

“There is no difference in talent level out there. With more resources and time together we can turn this around.”

The England captain and most-capped women’s international of all time, Sarah Hunter, who is “very certain” she will retire before her country hosts the next World Cup in 2025, backed up De Goede’s request.

“You’ve just got to look at some of their players and what they’ve done without being supported the way England do,” Hunter, who is 37 with 139 caps, said.

“I would like to see Canada Rugby get behind their XVs team and invest and see where the side can go.

“It’s going to take women’s rugby to the next level. I hope all the nations that are here that don’t invest as much as England do – that’s where we need to go next.

“We need to take it to another level and hopefully this World Cup is the start of that.”

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