The Black Ferns will bring home advantage, a sold-out Eden Park and everything wrapped up in New Zealand’s rugby mystique.
England will bring a winning record of 30 matches, a squad full of ultra-professional players and a buoyant set of stars. Tomorrow’s Women’s World Cup Final will truly pit the game’s two heavyweights against each other.
And when the two old foes slug it out, England believe New Zealand will be the ones to feel the pinch. Auckland’s Eden Park will host more than 40,000 fans in another tournament-high crowd.
New Zealand simply do not lose at their Auckland stronghold, whatever team they face, whatever the level. Try telling that to this group of Red Roses, though.
“For New Zealand, to lose in front of a home crowd is a tough gig, so it will be more intimidating for them and the pressure on them is absolutely massive,” said England head coach Simon Middleton. “We thrive in high-pressure environments and I’m convinced Saturday will be no different. We’re relishing the opportunity.”
England have the winning record, the hard-earned mentality — and the sheer numbers in experience terms, too. Sarah Hunter has more caps than New Zealand’s starting pack. The Red Roses captain boasts a record 139 Test appearances heading into this clash, with the Black Ferns’ entire forward unit only amassing 129 in total.
Vice-captain Emily Scarratt has already racked up 107 caps ahead of the showdown. New Zealand’s most-capped player is scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge, with 67. Scarratt’s influence in the centres continues to prove vital for an England side that dominated the early tournament exchanges through brutal, tight play.
The 32-year-old adds vital shape and tactical awareness to a cast of fliers swarming around her and causing major problems for opposition defences. Abby Dow’s wonder try in the slender semi-final win over Canada offered a timely reminder of England’s attacking capabilities.
Should Scarratt be in position to exert her game sense upon proceedings, then England will be in the driving seat. Whatever the stats imbalance, though, the hosts will have a huge say in this final, courtesy of a team full of high-quality, humility and no little stardust.
New Zealand vs England
The key clashes
Ruby Tui v Abby Dow
Flying wing Dow scorched in for the try of the tournament, as England edged out Canada 26-19 in the semi-finals. By rights, Dow should not even be at the competition, let alone powering home wonder scores.
The 25-year-old broke her leg in April and has made a remarkable recovery. Black Ferns star Tui’s unfiltered interviews are as unstructured as her game-breaking abilities, a heady mix that make her one of the sport’s most likeable characters as well as top talents.
Amy Rule v Vickii Cornborough
England’s loosehead prop Cornborough is so potent as to act as the Red Roses’ scrum cornerstone — the usual preserve of the tighthead. Rule takes the natural tighthead key axis role for the Black Ferns. So two tight-game titans will battle it out in a vital set-piece match-up that could go a long way to deciding the outcome.
Whoever dominates the scrum, lineout and maul games could well win this match. England will back their front-five dominance to the end, but New Zealand are no slouches.
Charmaine McMenamin v Sarah Hunter
England’s captain and pack totem Hunter has brought all her vast Test experience to bear in this World Cup, keeping the squad calm and steering the Red Roses in the right direction at every turn.
Simon Middleton’s side will need all their No8’s nous tomorrow, with Hunter required to subdue the Black Ferns’ very own potent loose-forward in McMenamin. Neither party here will have any interest in taking a back foot in what could be a sparky clash.
Wings Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman are among the game’s most dangerous threats in broken field, to add to their clear finishing talents. That Tui can find the time to hang out with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern amid preparations for the biggest game of her career speaks volumes on a well-adjusted and likeable star.
Tui’s post-match interviews are always box-office viewing, as much for her upbeat demeanour as the depth of her answers. Both these teams boast role models who are bringing new audiences into rugby exactly when the sport needs the extra hearts and minds.
England lost the 2017 final against New Zealand 41-32, but have inflicted punchy victories over the Black Ferns in the last two years. The final is no revenge mission for England, more a chance to crown a glittering four-year run.
England have the winning record, the hard-earned mentality — and the sheer numbers in experience terms, too
“It’s a very different team from 2017 and I don’t think we need to look back,” said captain Hunter. “We’re here to do our own thing and we’ll do that.
“Whatever happens, we’ll look back and say we’ve done something special over the last four years. We said from the outset it’s got the potential to be the best World Cup that’s ever been, and it certainly hasn’t disappointed so far.
“These are the games you want to play in. If you don’t enjoy the big occasions then you’re in the wrong place.”
England are exactly where they want to be heading into this final. Time to step into position and take the title.