lison Kervin in Barcelona
ON A sun-dappled pitch at the imposing Olympic Stadium in Barcelona on Saturday evening, New Zealand beat England 19-9 to win the women's rugby World Cup. Their victory allows the Black Ferns to hold on to the most treasured prize in the game and it sends a clear and simple message out to the sporting world -women's rugby needs to be invested in, supported and taken seriously.
The match was a battle between the two superpowers -a contest between England, who "invented" women's rugby, and New Zealand, their southern-hemisphere opponents who appropriated and developed it. A familiar rugby tale.
New Zealand were the better side on Saturday; they were superior in the forwards and awesome in defence, as they had been throughout the tournament. They have not conceded a try and have had just 12 points scored against them.
Their win marks the high point of an extraordinary and well-managed turnaround. Last summer they lost to England in New Zealand, prompting a thorough overhaul of their game. A panel comprising leading New Zealand coaches such as Wayne Smith and Robbie Deanes was established to work with Darryl Suasua, the side's regular coach, to improve standards. As part of the new regime, the women trained alongside men's Super 12 development teams.
The policy paid off magnificently on Saturday. As Suasua ran on to the field - looking like a modern-day Ruud Gullit with his dreadlocks, designer sunglasses and hefty jewellery, -his team's transformation was complete. There is no doubt that they have made an important statement about the future of the women's game. "We have worked hard since the summer -we've been fully backed by the New Zealand Rugby Union and had support from the whole of the men's game. That's why this side is so strong," he said.
England's women are also fully integrated into the Rugby Football Union now but, it would be fair to say, without the same enthusiasm that the Kiwi women have received. The attitude is that if anyone appears in the black shirt of New Zealand, they are to be treated with respect. The women's route through the World Cup was followed avidly in New Zealand and the final was screened live, even though it was at 3am local time.
At the end of the tournament, as the New Zealand team performed the haka to celebrate their victory and We Are The Champions resonated around the stadium, the England team clutched their silver medals to their chests and hugged one another.
To come so close to victory, and to lose in the final game, is a devastating blow, but to make it to a World Cup final in the first place is a magnificent achievement. That England have made it to every women's World Cup final says much about the dedication and commitment of those behind the game in this country.
The disappointment of not being world champions will linger for Paula George, the England captain, and Geoff Richards, the coach, but hopefully they will take the time to reflect on just how much they achieved in Barcelona and how much they have done for the women's game.
SCORERS: England: Penalty goals: Rae 2 (5min, 32). Dropped goal: Rae (19). New Zealand: Tries: Hirovanaa (40), Waaka (48). Penalty goals: Wilson 2 (4, 14), Myers (83).
SCORING SEQUENCE (England first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-6, 6-6, 9-6, 9-11 (half-time), 9-16, 9-19.
ENGLAND: P George (Wasps); N Crawford (Worcester), N Jupp (Richmond), S Rudge (Clifton; rep: A De Biase, Saracens 73min), S Day (Wasps); S Rae (Wasps; blood rep: S Appleby, Clifton, 56-61), J Yapp (Worcester); M Edwards (Saracens; rep: T O'Reilly, Saracens, 53), A Garnett (Saracens, sin-bin, 30-40), V Huxford (Wasps), K Henderson (Clifton), T Andrews (Richmond; rep: G Burns, Waterloo, 75); J Phillips (Richmond; rep: H Clayton, Saracens, 53), G Stevens (Clifton), C Frost (Saracens).
NEW ZEALAND: T Wilson; D Kahura, A Rush, S Shortland (rep: H Myers, 66), A Marsh; A Richards, M Hirovanaa; R Sheck (rep: H Va'aga, 52), F Palmer, R Luia'ana, M Codling, V Heighway (sin-bin, 64-74), C Waaka, A Lili'i (rep: M Robinson, 75), R Martin.
Referee: G De Santis (Italy).
The Times (London, England) (May 27, 2002): p26
England's final push falls short
ENGLAND narrowly failed in their attempt to win the World Cup on Saturday, going down 19-9 to a powerful New Zealand side in
Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.
The final, played in front of nearly 8,000 spectators, was tense throughout but England were ultimately outgunned by a New Zealand side who have taken women's rugby to a new level over the past 18 months.
The Kiwis, under coach Darryl Suasua - who announced his retirement following their victory - had conceded just three points before the final and fully deserved to win their second successive title.
England briefly led 9-6 in the first half, thanks to two penalties and a drop-goal from fly-half Shelley Rae. New Zealand struck back with a try either side of half-time, and an astute kicking game gave England little chance to further threaten the New
Paula George, the England captain, had hoped that beating New Zealand last summer would give the team the confidence to repeat the feat. "We had them running scared for long periods," she said. "But unfortunately we didn't turn our pressure into points."
England's coach, Geoff Richards, felt that the better team had won. "New Zealand are a fantastic side and kept us under pressure for the whole game," he said. "We were living off scraps in the second half and, unless you have a platform up front, it is difficult to launch meaningful attacks."
Nevertheless the team hope that their performance, and the standard of play in this tournament, might persuade Rugby Football Union officials to allow women to play on Twickenham's hallowed turf. "Hopefully it won't be too long now till we play at HQ," Richards said, "We are a national team and we feel we deserve to play in a national stadium."
Daily Telegraph (London, England) (May 27, 2002)