Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — Untested since their second pool match against France, England had had it much their own way throughout the tournament and expected to have it much the same in their semifinal, but their opponents Canada refused to make it easy, forcing them to work until the final minute in their tense 26-19 win at Eden Park on Saturday.
Dominating the opening passage, it felt the game would go as expected, with England’s kicking game keeping Canada pinned within their 22m, before their dominant lineout eventually lead to the opening try of the match with flanker Marlie Packer dotting down from the back of their rolling maul.
England would shoot even further ahead through wing Abby Dow following persistent pressure from their exceptional kicking that gave Canada no chance of moving out of their redzone. Up 12-0 after less than 15 minutes, everything seemed to be going England’s way.
The game would be blown wide open just moments later though when Canada flanker Karen Paquin would finish off a contender for try of the tournament (it would be outdone by Dow in the second half) after halfback Justin Pelletier sent a grubber through the defensive line before Paquin blew through the defence to touch it down. Their own rolling maul would put them in striking position again and centre Alysha Corrigan would dot it down to level the scores 12-12 with minutes left in the half.
“I thought Canada were fantastic,” England coach Simon Middleton said post-match. “It was really the best set-piece we’ve come up against by a long way. They kept the ball really well and challenged us in every area of the game and I thought the character they showed was fantastic.
“We know we weren’t anywhere near our best today, Canada didn’t let us be anywhere near our best and I thought we got a little bit tired at times today.
“We set off really well, we had a great first 15 minutes of the game and then we just let Canada in and I think we were a bit nervous, which is understandable, the pressure on the teams was huge and the expectation is massive on these girls and yet they keep delivering time and time again.
“You could see that in our performance today, we found a way to win and that is the most important thing and the character they showed.
“It was ironic really because the defence got us home in the end but the defence caused trouble at the start. Not being clinical when we had a great opportunity to probably put 3 scores in it. You know we gave them a half a chance and they took it.”
Like they’ve done throughout the tournament, the Red Roses displayed their many threats across the park, with their scrum and lineout humming, while their kicking game – especially from fly-half Zoe Harrison who slotted a sensational 50-22 kick – had their opponents pinned inside their 22m for multiple periods. But they lacked the clinical edge they’d displayed so many times previously.
Conceding 15 turnovers and holding onto just 38 percent of possession and 29 percent of territory, it was far from England’s best performance, but after weathering a barrage from Canada’s forwards — including a 10-minute period one-player down — England did just enough to make it 30 straight wins.
“Canada certainly made life difficult for us at times but I was really proud with how we fought and managed our way in that game,” Red Roses captain Sarah Hunter said. “As Simon says, we certainly weren’t our best by any means but you don’t have to be to get into the finals. We’re in the finals and we found a way to get there.
“At times in the last 20 minutes the girls had to dig deep and put their bodies on the line to stop Canada from getting in and making it potentially a draw. Even when we’re not at our best we can still find ways to win and we’re in a final which is what we sought to do and that’s what we’re really pleased with today. We have to make sure we’re ready to do it again next week.”
Two quick penalties either side of the break gave the Red Roses the points advantage before Dow would score a spectacular try that started from inside England’s in-goal and ran 105m downfield to push England ahead 23-13.
Refusing to go away Canada would close the gap again through Tyson Beukeboom, who would dart through the Red Roses defensive line before she’d end the move several phases later as she crashed over the line.
Forced to dig deep, England would prove why they’re World Cup favourites as they iced the match with a Emily Scarratt penalty, and while Middleton would have liked a cleaner game from his side he knows his team needed a true test in the semi in order to prepare properly for the battle they’ll face against the Black Ferns in the grand final.
“The game was a great advert for rugby and that’s what you want – nothing other than a fantastic game and spectacle,” Middleton said. “The 46 players involved deserve all the credit because they were absolutely incredible today.
“If we’d had an easy semifinal today and got through it, we wouldn’t be ready for next week. I tell you now, we’re ready for next week.”
Source : Sky.com