England will move to the top of the World Rugby Women's Rankings for the first time on Monday after beating the Black Ferns on New Zealand soil for the first time since 2001 in wet conditions in Rotorua.
The Red Roses used the driving maul to perfection, scoring three tries from a tactic that New Zealand simply had no answer too and one that coach Glenn Moore will want to rectify before his side head to Ireland for Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 in August.
The world champions enjoyed the perfect start with centre Emily Scarratt going over in the corner for a 7-0 lead and kept up the pressure by barely allowing the Black Ferns out of their 22 until a moment of magic from scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge tied the scores in the ninth minute.
The former World Rugby Women's Player of the Year stepped the player in front of her and then put up a chip over the defence, racing onto the ball to touch down near the posts to give herself an easy conversion attempt.
New Zealand scored against the run of play again in the 20th minute when England had numbers out wide but Scarratt's looping pass was plucked out of the air by Portia Woodman and the Black Ferns speedster raced 60 metres to make it 14-7 after Cocksedge's second conversion.
With the rain continuing to fall in this International Women's Rugby Series decider between the two most successful teams in women's rugby history, the score seemed set to stay that way to half-time until England employed a driving maul and the hosts were penalised for bringing it down, captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili receiving a yellow card as a result.
England pounced with another powerful drive, New Zealand initially repelled it but they peeled right and Abbie Scott went down over the line. Scarratt added the conversion to tie the scores and then England survived one final attack from New Zealand, Kelly Brazier kicking through after an initial break but the defence easily beat Selica Winiata to the ball and referee Amy Perrett blew for half-time.
Fa'amausili's yellow card proved even more costly when England scored their third try within three minutes of the restart, lively winger Lydia Thompson fending off Woodman to score in the corner. Scarratt missed the conversion but England were ahead for the first time since the ninth minute. A fourth try followed in the 54th minute when the Black Ferns again failed to handle a driving maul, this time Marlie Packer the player to touch down.
Scarratt pulled a penalty wide on the hour mark, but eight minutes later England had a fourth try in almost identical fashion to the previous one with a controlled driving maul resulting in a try for replacement hooker Vicky Fleetwood. New Zealand did have the final say when replacement Victoria Subritsky-Nafatali stepped Amber Read and went through the gap to score, but with two minutes left on the clock it was little more than a consolation score.
The victory means England will turn a 3.37 rating point deficit to New Zealand in the world rankings into a lead of almost five tenths over New Zealand when they update at 12 noon UK time on Monday.
“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. With the weather as it was tonight, we knew what we needed to put in place,” said England coach Simon Middleton. “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.”
Canada remain third in the rankings after ending the series on a high note with a 45-5 victory over Australia, their first win in the four-team event that mirrored the pool stage schedule of Women's Rugby World Cup 2017, which takes place in Ireland from 9-26 August.
The Canadians, who had lost 27-20 earlier in the week, scored seven tries through full-back Julianne Zussman (2), hooker Jane Kirby, winger Frederique Rajotte, fly-half Emily Belchos, replacement Brianna Miller and captain Kelly Russell in their last outing before WRWC 2017.
“We wanted to play with a bit more tempo than we’ve been playing with,” Russell said afterwards. “You have to learn from previous losses and that’s what we did. This game was a start and we’re keep building ahead of the World Cup.”
Canada came storming out of the gates and whenAustralia lost Cheyenne Campbell to the sin-bin in the seventh minute they pounced with Kirby driving over for a 7-0 lead. That was soon doubled when Canada forced a turnover on defence and Magali Harvey raced away before Zussman in support.
Two further tries followed before half-time, the first through Rajotte before Belchos barged her way over the line to give her side a 26-0 lead.
Australia managed to open their account early in the second half through Hilisha Samoa, but Canada were soon back on the attack with Miller slipping through a gap to score her first test try. Russell and Zussman also crossed to put the gloss on a victory for the Canadians.
While his side suffered three heavy defeats in the series, there were still plenty of positives for Australia coach Paul Verrell to take away as the Wallaroos continue their preparations for WRWC 2017 where they will face France, Ireland and Japan in Pool C.
“While we were disappointed with the result today, the tour has provided us a chance for the squad to get a realistic view of the work ahead of them before we head to the World Cup in Ireland,” insisted Verrell. “We’ve uncovered some talented new players across the three matches with 11 new players earning their first caps.
“The focus now is to ensure we continue to build in the six week block we have to prepare for the World Cup. The girls will be working hard in their respective states before we come together at our final pre-World Cup training camp at Narrabeen in Sydney in August.”
The countdown to #RWC2019 begins here!
Sign-up to the Front Row to be the first to find out news and ticket information for Rugby World Cup 2019Sign up here!