- New Zealand: Tries – Cocksedge, Woodman, Subritzky-Nafatali Conversions – Cocksedge 2, Brazier
- England: Tries – Scott, Scarratt, Thompson, Packer, Fleetwood Conversions – Scarratt 2
England will head into August’s Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland brimming with confidence after completing a clean sweep of wins in the International Women’s Rugby Series in New Zealand.
The Red Roses were two from two in the series heading into the decider against Black Ferns, having beaten Australia 53-10 in Wellington and Canada 27-20 in Christchurch.
England produced a disciplined performance against New Zealand, using their kicking game expertly and playing territory as they scored five tries.
Abbie Scott, Emily Scarratt, Lydia Thompson, Marlie Packer and Vicky Fleetwood all scored for England to help seal a 21-29 victory.
In a meeting of the top two teams in the world; the Black Ferns struggled to cope with England’s dominance up front and at the set piece at the Rotorua International Stadium for much of the second half.
It was a turnaround in results for England having played the Black Ferns in the Old Mutual Wealth Series in 2016, where New Zealand beat Simon Middleton’s team 20-25 at Twickenham Stoop.
Head Coach Middleton made seven changes to the England team that lined up against Canada, with the starting XV totalling an impressive 850 caps, and the world champions made a superb start.
Winger Thompson made the initial break down the right and when the ball was spread left it was Scarratt with enough pace and power to slide over on the greasy surface in the left corner.
Scarratt added the extras for a 7-0 lead but the Black Ferns response was swift, scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge sniping clear round the fringes before chipping ahead and gathering for a fine solo score that she converted herself.
The game appeared to have settled down after that energetic opening, Sarah Bern and Scarratt both carrying well for the Red Roses but when the latter tried to offload out of the tackle in the 20th minute disaster struck.
The pass was picked off by the deadly Portia Woodman and the winger ran the length of the field to dot down untouched under the posts, Cocksedge adding the extras for a 14-7 lead.
As the half hour mark came and went – and the heavens opened – England had to muscle up in defence as the Black Ferns dominated territory.
But by the end of the half England had regathered themselves, Danielle Waterman – on her 70th cap – and Packer both breaking the line before the forwards got the score their dominance deserved.
With Kiwi hooker Fiao’o Faamausili in the bin, a rolling maul barrelled over and lock Scott emerged with the ball, Scarratt’s conversion sending the two sides in level at the break.
England now had the momentum and they made a quick start after the break, dominating possession and territory.
After a sustained period of England pressure, a powerful break from Bristol flanker Packer had the New Zealand defence scrambling. Fly-half Katy Mclean got her hands on the quick ball and attacked the blindside, where she found Thompson in space.
The Worcester Valkyries winger, who scored a hat-trick on her international debut, still had plenty to do but a mixture of trickery and power saw her score in the corner.
It got even better for the Red Roses as a well-worked set piece saw Packer force her way over from close range following a clever line-out.
The English pack was now dominating the New Zealand team and it was just a matter of time before they exerted their physical power again.
Scott claimed the line-out and offloaded to Packer, who with a little help from her friends, drove over from close range but again Scarratt was unable to add the extras to leave the score at 24-14.
England see out the game
In worsening conditions, New Zealand were forced to run the ball from deep as they desperately tried to get a foothold back in the game but England’s defence was disciplined, with Thompson marshalling the impressive Woodman well out wide.
England were dominating possession and forcing New Zealand into uncharacteristic errors, however Scarratt was unable to edge the Red Rose further in front from the kicking tee, pulling her penalty wide on the hour mark.
England did go further ahead on 68 minutes as New Zealand once again struggled to halt a close-range driving maul from the visitors.
The Red Rose power up front and set piece was now dictating play and this time it was replacement Fleetwood who burrowed her way over the line.
Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali scored a late consolation try for New Zealand, powerfully barging her way over after the home team had been camped on England’s line late in the game.
Happy and proud
Middleton paid tribute to his side's character and tactical nous following the victory.
“We’ve got a clear way in which we want to play and we’ve invested a lot of time in being able to control field position as well as being able to control possession," said Middleton. "With the weather as it was tonight, we knew what we needed to put in place.
“We’ve got some great kickers of the ball and a lot of energy on the field and that came good for us tonight.
“We’ve got a picture of where we are now. With analysis we can look at what we have to improve on but we needed to give everything tonight against the best side in the world and we’ve done that and so are rightfully very happy and very proud.”
New Zealand Women: 15 Selica Winiata, 14 Portia Woodman, 13 Stacey Waaka, 12 Chelsea Alley, 11 Renee Wickliffe, 10 Kelly Brazier, 9 Kendra Cocksedge, 1 Toka Natua, 2 Fiao’o Faamausili, 3 Aldora Itunu, 4 Eloise Blackwell, 5 Charmaine Smith, 6 Rawinia Everitt, 7 Sarah Goss, 8 Linda Itunu
Replacements: 16 Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamata,17 Sosoli Talawadu, 18 Aleisha Nelson, 19 Becky Wood, 20 Charmaine McMenanim, 21 Kristina Sue, 22 Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, 23 Honey Hireme
England Women: 15 Danielle Waterman (Bristol, 70 caps, E Scott (67)), 14 Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 34 caps), 13 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield, 69 caps), 12 Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls, 67 caps, Reed (59)), 11 Kay Wilson (Richmond, 45 caps), 10 Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 86 caps), 9 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 37 caps, Mason (40)), 1 Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 124 caps, Cornborough (54)), 2 Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 28 caps, Fleetwood (54)), 3 Sarah Bern (Bristol, 11 caps, Lucas (54)), 4 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 105 caps), 5 Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 17 caps), 6 Alex Matthews (Richmond, 32 caps), 7 Marlie Packer (Bristol, 47 caps, Noel-Smith (59)), 8 Sarah Hunter (c) (Bristol, 93 caps, Millar-Mills (67)).
Replacements: 16 Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 62 caps), 17 Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls, 26 caps), 18 Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 46 caps), 19 Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 46 caps), 20 Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 32 caps), 21 La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 66 caps), 22 Amber Reed (Bristol, 39 caps), 23 Emily Scott (Saracens, 23 caps).
Wommen fixtures, International Women’s Rugby Series
Australia 10 – 53 England
Friday 9 June, Porirua Park, Wellington
Canada 20 - 27 England Women
Tuesday 13 June, Rugby Park, Christchurch
New Zealand 21 – 29 Women
Saturday 17 June, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua