New Zealand were crowned Women’s Rugby Super Series 2019 champions following an enthralling final day’s action at the Torero Stadium in San Diego.
England began the day top of the table but despite taking an early 10-3 lead – and playing against 14 players for a quarter of the match – were unable to get the better of a Renee Wickliffe-inspired Black Ferns side.
In the final game of the tournament, France rounded off their campaign with a 53-14 defeat of their hosts USA that took them above Canada and into third place.
New Zealand 28-13 England
Renee Wickliffe (pictured right) ran in a hat-trick of tries to inspire New Zealand to a victory that wrapped up the Women’s Rugby Super Series title and kept the Black Ferns top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings.
England started play top of the standings and provisionally ahead of their opponents in the world rankings, but the Red Roses slipped to a first defeat in 17 months in what was a repeat of the Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 final.
The Red Roses had started the game strongly and after Toka Natua had received a fourth-minute yellow card, Emily Scarratt and Kendra Cocksedge traded penalties before the former scored the game’s first try.
England’s forward pack did much of the damage as a multi-phase move created the space which Scarratt was able to exploit. The Red Roses centre stepped up to add the conversion and give her side a 10-3 lead.
The game turned prior to the half-hour mark as Wickliffe crossed the whitewash twice in less than five minutes.
Her first score owed much to a brilliant, mazy break from Cocksedge, who beat a number of England defenders before shipping the ball to the right wing via Charmaine McMenamin.
Wickliffe finished strongly and moments later she was in the right place at the right time again to pick off a risky Sarah Bern pass to run under the posts unopposed from the 22-metre line.
England had recovered from half-time deficits to win both of their previous two matches against Canada and France but the game against the Black Ferns proved a step too far.
Scarratt did narrow the deficit to two points with a 46th-minute penalty, but although New Zealand were reduced to 14 players for a second time, as Te Kura Ngata-Arerengemate was sin-binned for persistent infringements, the second half belonged to the Black Ferns.
Cocksedge restored her side’s five-point lead from the kicking tee before Wickliffe completed her hat-trick, racing on to a stunning Theresa Fitzpatrick offload to score under the posts.
Black Ferns scrum-half Cocksedge added the conversion and extended her side’s, ultimately unassailable, lead to beyond two scores with another penalty with less than 10 minutes to go. England ended the game with 14 players as replacement prop Hannah Botterman was shown a late yellow, but despite disappointment captain Sarah Hunter saw positives in her team’s campaign.
“We’ve definitely matured a great deal, we’ve got a young squad,” she said. “Fair play to the Black Ferns, we couldn’t get a foothold in the game and that’s the sign of a good team.”
Middleton added: “It was the game that New Zealand wanted it to be and fair play to them as they’re the world’s best at finding a way to win and imposing themselves on teams, and they did that today. I thought they were incredibly physical and we struggled to deal with that and never really got going, but that is because of the way they played.”
France 53-14 USA
France rounded off their Super Series 2019 campaign with a comprehensive win against the USA at Torero Stadium that saw them return to third in the world rankings at Canada's expense.
Les Bleues, who beat New Zealand in round three, leapfrogged Canada with victory to finish the tournament third behind the Black Ferns and England, and in doing so consigned the hosts to the wooden spoon.
Following a disjointed opening 25 minutes it was France who had their noses in front, thanks to a pair of Jessy Trémoulière penalties, and the 2018 Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam winners would take control of the contest with four tries either side of half-time.
The first of those arrived in the 28th minute when second-row Madoussou Fall powered over from close range, following good work from Caroline Boujard on the right wing.
Trémoulière added the conversion, and France extended their lead before the break as number eight Emeline Gros charged down an attempted box-kick by USA scrum-half Ashlee Byrge before collecting the loose ball and crossing the whitewash.
It was much the same story in the second half. Céline Ferer scored Les Bleues’ third try having been picked out by Morgane Peyronnet’s cross-field kick, and when replacement scrum-half Laure Sansus darted over from the base of a scrum the hosts found themselves 34-0 down with half an hour to play.
The Women's Eagles got some reward for their endeavour as sevens star Alev Kelter ran a good support line to take a pass from Jennine Duncan and score. But any hopes of a home fightback were quickly put to bed when Cyrielle Banet touched down with less than 14 minutes to play.
A neat finish from Marine Ménager and another try for Sansus took France past the half-century mark before Charli Jacoby burrowed over late on to ensure the USA had the final say in their home tournament.
Photos: David Barpal