On Saturday 19th November at Harlequins Stoop England, the 2014 World Cup champions, took on the team ranked number one in the world – New Zealand.
After winning their first two games against France and Ireland in the Old Mutual Wealth Series, England looked like a force to be reckoned with and they certainly did not make the game easy for the Black Ferns.
Despite an impressive performance from the Red Roses, New Zealand proved why they deserved their title and brought England’s winning streak to an end with a sharply contested 20-25 defeat by capitalising on England's errors.
But while it may have been a devastating loss for England, the game itself was far from disappointing.
Before the game kicked off, the entire stadium fell into silence as the Black Ferns performed the legendary haka. This did not deter the England side’s focus though, who looked the stronger team from the start, scoring a try within the first 60 seconds of the game which was secured by Fiona Pocock on the wing.
Following this early try the rest of the first half reached stalemate. Despite the game being mostly played in New Zealand's half, their defence was seemingly impenetrable.
The ball is rolled into the scrum
England’s attack was weakened further with Pocock having to come off with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after a strong performance and scoring the first try. The cracks had begun to show in the English side.
New Zealand's persistence eventually paid off as Renee Wickliffe secured New Zealand's first try in the 39th minute, which was converted to take them up to lead 7-5 over England in the final play of the first half.
England came back seemingly un-phased by the Ferns' last minute try and conversion from the first half. With only 14 New Zealand players on the pitch following Selicia Winiata’s sin bin, England took full advantage and scored two tries within the first 10 minutes of the second half. An impressive driving maul-try, battled for by the forwards and secured by Harriet Miller-Mills, was followed by another from the wing scored by Lydia Thompson, and finally a converted try.
The 54th minute was a historical one as Rochelle Clark (aka Rocky) made her way onto the pitch amongst a roar of cheers from the crowd to take her 116th cap. Rocky now stands as not only the most capped England player in history but also the most capped Women's international player. Rocky’s commitment to the England team and to coaching rugby is an inspirational achievement. Her appearance on Saturday was particularly momentous for all the aspiring young women in the crowd.
However, England’s hard work at the start of the second half did not pay off for them. New Zealand's line outs were incredibly impressive and they did not allow their heads to drop despite the points difference. The Black Fern’s scrum half and 2015 World Rugby Player of the Year, Kendra Cocksedge, nipped between the England defence for her first try of the game and shortly after managed a second which she also converted, putting them up 19-17.
England scrambled for points and missed a first penalty. Emily Scarratt made the second penalty successful with seven minutes left on the clock, bringing them back in front at 20-19. The game was nail-bitingly close with the clock ticking, but it was New Zealand who stole the show as Cocksedge put yet more points on the board with two successful penalties in succession to end the game 20-25.
A disappointing loss for England it may have been, but an incredible day out with for the impressive 4,013 attendees who travelled from across the country to show their support for the Red Roses. Some attendants even making the four and a half hour trip down from Liverpool.
At only £10 a ticket fans will likely feel the journey was worth it to witness two of the world’s best teams battle it out, a chance to see the haka in the flesh as well as watching a historical moment as Rocky Clark won her 116th cap.
Next Saturday, on 26th November, England take on Canada at Twickenham. England will have to tighten up their game and be more disciplined ahead of the game if they hope to get a result. Losing by virtue of points gained from penalties is always hard to stomach but they will hope that captain and World Rugby Women's Player of 2016 Sarah Hunter can whip the Roses back into form.