England ‘gutted but proud’ after Women’s Rugby World Cup final loss: ‘Hopefully we have inspired a generation’

England ‘gutted but proud’ after Women’s Rugby World Cup final loss: ‘Hopefully we have inspired a generation’

England’s Red Roses hope they inspired a generation despite their agonising Women’s Rugby World Cup final defeat by New Zealand.

Simon Middleton’s side saw their incredible 30-match Test winning streak that had lasted since the summer of 2019 ended in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday with a dramatic 34-31 loss to the defending champions, who lifted the trophy for the sixth time on home soil.

An enthralling, brutal final was played in front of a crowd of 43,579 at Auckland’s Eden Park, a record-breaking attendance for a women’s rugby contest.

And captain Sarah Hunter was disappointed but proud after a memorable campaign in which England decimated the likes of Fiji and South Africa during the pool stages as well as producing physical wins over the likes of France and Canada to reach another final.

"I'm gutted. I'm so proud of the team, we came out fighting,” she said after the game. "We had our backs against the wall for 60 minutes but we never gave up. 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.

Heartbreak: England could not overcome New Zealand with 14 players in dramatic final (PA)
Heartbreak: England could not overcome New Zealand with 14 players in dramatic final (PA)

"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."

Head coach Middleton also expressed his pride at his players after a classic final in which England had to play for more than an hour with 14 players after Lydia Thompson’s 18th-minute red card for a dangerous tackle on New Zealand‘s Portia Woodman.

They still managed to lead 26-19 at half-time and wrestled back the advantage thanks to hooker Amy Cokayne’s hat-trick try, but could not hold on as Ayesha Leti-i’iga’s stylish score proved decisive on the night.

“That’s the overwhelming feeling. How proud I am and we are of the players,” Middleton said. “They gave absolutely everything. Not just tonight but for 50, 51 days. They’ve given nothing but their absolute best every single day.”

On Thompson’s red card, he added: “It didn’t help. It’s tough having 14 players for that long. We put them under a lot of pressure, they put us under a lot of pressure.

“We took it right down to the wire. It could have gone either way at the end. Overall, I’m just so proud of the players. They couldn’t have given more. Twists happen in a game and you deal with them. It’s part of the game and we dealt with it.

“In terms of our goals, it is [a disappointment],” Middleton added. “Talk to any of the players and they’ll say exactly the same.

“But we won on massive fronts. We wanted to leave these shores a better team than we came. We did 100 per cent. We’ve lost tonight but won massively over the last 51 days.”