History was made at Rugby World Cup 2021 as New Zealand edged England at a sold-out Eden Park to become the first host nation to win the showpiece tournament.
The Red Roses, reduced to 14 players for more than an hour, had a late chance to win it but the Black Ferns disrupted their previously faultless lineout.
It meant that Ayesha Leti-I’iga’s 71st minute try – her second and the 11th of an incredible final – proved to be the winning score as the Black Ferns held on to claim their sixth Rugby World Cup title.
And, as the dust settles in Auckland, we recap an absorbing six weeks of action to uncover how the hosts won RWC 2021.
What happened at RWC 2021?
RWC 2021 got underway at Eden Park as France ran out 40-5 winners against South Africa in Pool C.
Laure Sansus scored two tries for Les Bleues, while Gabrielle Vernier, Emilie Boulard, Caroline Drouin and debutant Joanna Grisez each crossed the whitewash. Nomawethu Mabenge scored the Springbok Women’s only try.
England ran in 14 tries to beat Fiji 84-19 in Saturday’s second match. Claudia Macdonald crossed the whitewash four times, while Amy Cokayne (twice), Abbie Ward, Helena Rowland, Zoe Aldcroft, Lydia Thompson (twice), Abby Dow, Leanne Infante and Connie Powell also scored.
Fiji, who only trailed 24-14 at half-time, scored three tries, through Alowesi Nakoci, Sesenieli Donu and Lavena Cavuru.
In the final match of day one, the Black Ferns recovered from going 17-0 down to beat the Wallaroos 41-17.
Tries from Bienne Terita (two) and Ivania Wong gave Australia a three-score lead after 28 minutes, but the hosts hit back before half-time through Joanah Ngan-Woo and Portia Woodman.
Woodman completed her hat-trick in the second half, while Awhina Tangen-Wainohu and Ruby Tui (twice) also scored.
On Sunday, the action switched to the Northland Events Centre in Whangārei, where Italy ran in four tries to beat the USA 22-10 in Pool.
The USA took the lead through Hallie Taufoou but went into half-time 7-5 behind following Vittoria Minuzzi’s converted try. Aura Muzzo and Jenny Kronish then traded efforts, before tries from Muzzo and Maria Magatti in the final quarter confirmed a bonus-point win for the Azzurre.
Canada lead the way in Pool B on points difference from Italy, after an Emily Tuttosi hat-trick helped them to a 41-5 win against Japan in Whangārei.
Paige Farries, Brianna Miller (twice) and Mikiela Nelson also crossed for the Canadians, while Japan’s sole riposte came in the sixth minute through Maki Takano.
The opening weekend of RWC 2021 drew to a close in dramatic fashion as Keira Bevan’s 86th-minute penalty gave Wales an 18-15 victory against Scotland in Pool A.
When Megan Gaffney crossed for her second, and Scotland’s third try of the match with less than two minutes remaining, the scores were tied at 15-15.
However, there was still time for the 14 players of Wales to march downfield and win the penalty that Bevan so calmly stroked through the posts.
Scotland suffered a second narrow defeat in succession as Australia kicked-off round two with a 14-12 win in Whangārei.
The Wallaroos found themselves 12-0 down at half-time at the Northland Events Centre as Lana Skeldon’s ninth-minute score was supplemented by a penalty try.
However, Australia ran in two tries of their own in the second half, through Bienne Terita and Ashley Marsters, which crucially were both converted by Lori Cramer.
Marsters and fellow hooker Adiana Talakai were both sent off late on but the Wallaroos held on for a victory that moved them up to second in Pool A.
Next up in Whangārei, the USA ran in four second half tries to secure a bonus-point 30-17 win against Japan and kickstart their own RWC 2021 campaign.
Japan led 5-3 at half-time thanks to Megumi Abe’s early try and took a 10-8 lead early in the second half as Joanna Kitlinski and Hinano Nagura traded tries.
Alev Kelter, Elizabeth Cairns and Jennine Detiveaux each crossed the whitewash in a 15-minute period for the Women’s Eagles, however, to seal the bonus point and render Komachi Imakugi’s late try no more than consolation for the Sakura 15s.
Matchday three came to a close with a hard-fought 13-7 victory for England against France, which secured the Red Roses’ place in the quarter-finals.
Les Bleues lost Laure Sansus and Romane Ménager to injury in a gripping first half in which the Red Roses built a 10-0 lead thanks to Emily Scarratt’s 24th-minute try, which she converted, and a penalty.
Scarratt added her second penalty midway through the second half to give England a 13-0 lead. France responded soon after as Gaëlle Hermet dotted down but were unable to breach the Red Roses defence again.
On Sunday, Canada recovered from conceding in the opening minute to secure a bonus-point 22-12 defeat of Italy and their place in the quarter-finals.
Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi scored a stunning solo try with less than 60 seconds on the clock but Canada led at half-time thanks to tries from Paige Farries and Emily Tuttosi.
Sara Kaljuvee and Tuttosi added further scores after the break before Elisa Giordano gave the Azzurre something to cheer with a try in the final two minutes.
There was much to celebrate for the majority of the sold-out Waitakere Stadium as hosts New Zealand ran in 10 tries to beat Wales 56-12 in Auckland.
Chelsea Bremner, Portia Woodman (two), Sylvia Brunt (two), Maia Roos, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Krystal Murray, Mastercard Player of the Match Ruahei Demant and Ruby Tui each crossed the whitewash for the Black Ferns.
Wales’ replies came from Ffion Lewis on the stroke of half-time and Sioned Harries.
History was made in the final match of round two as Fiji secured a first-ever Rugby World Cup win, securing a nail-biting 21-17 defeat of South Africa at Waitakere Stadium.
Fijiana led 14-7 at half-time as Ilisapeci Delaiwau and Akanisi Sokoiwasa scored either side of Zintle Mpupha’s try for the Springbok Women.
South Africa levelled the score when Aseza Hele touched down and then took the lead when Libbie Janse van Rensburg landed a penalty with less than two minutes to go. However, there was still time for Fiji to break upfield and score the match-winning try through Karalaini Naisewa.
Lori Cramer penalties at the end of each half edged Australia to a 13-7 win against Wales that sent them through to the quarter-finals as Pool A runners-up.
In the fifth minute, Wallaroos scrum-half Iliseva Batibasaga scored the opening try of the match following a brilliant piece of opportunism, which Cramer converted.
Sioned Harries burrowed over around 18 minutes later to help level the score before Cramer nudged the Wallaroos back in front with her first penalty on the stroke of half-time. It remained 10-7 until the closing stages when the Australia full-back added a second three-pointer to make sure of victory.
The Black Ferns secured the bonus-point win they needed, beating Scotland 57-0 in front of more than 16,000 fans to seal top seeding for the quarter-finals.
Coach Wayne Smith rang the changes for the final pool match but the hosts struck within two minutes through Renee Holmes and scored seven tries in a dominant first-half display.
Scotland dug deep after the break to stem the tide, but conceded a further two tries, to Maia Roos and a second for Holmes, who ended the match with 22 points having converted six of her side’s nine tries.
France also got the bonus-point victory they craved against Fiji, beating the Rugby World Cup debutants 44-0 in the final match at Northland Events Centre.
Marine Ménager, Melissande Llorens and Maëlle Filopon each touched down in the first half as Les Bleues attempted to ensure they would finish the pool phase no lower than second in Pool C and fourth seed.
The all-important fourth try came midway through the second half, through Filopon and there was time for Emiline Gros, Emilie Boulard and Célia Domain to cross the whitewash before the end.
On Sunday, Italy were made to work hard by Japan to secure the 21-8 victory that ultimately took them through to the quarter-finals as Pool B runners-up.
Maria Magatti scored the opening try of the match within nine minutes, but Japan replied on the half-hour mark through Kyoko Hosokawa.
The score was tied at 8-8 early in the second half after Michela Sillari – who became Italy’s top-scoring woman at Rugby World Cup – and Ayasa Otsuka traded penalties. But Sillari kicked two more three pointers and then converted Melissa Bettoni’s late try to wrap up the win.
Canada made sure of top spot in Pool B and second seed for the quarter-finals as they ran in five tries to beat the USA 29-14.
Tries from Emily Tuttosi, Alex Tessier and Paige Farries gave Canada a 19-7 half-time lead, the USA’s reply coming from Alev Kelter.
The USA had a try disallowed early in the second half and conceded for a fourth time soon afterwards as Olivia DeMerchant went over. Kate Zackary did grab a second for the Women’s Eagles before the end, but Canada prop Mikiela Nelson rounded off the scoring in the final play.
In the final match of the pool phase, England ran in 13 tries to beat South Africa 75-0 and claim top spot in Pool C.
Rosie Galligan and Connie Powell both scored a hat-trick of tries at Waitakere Stadium, while Poppy Cleall and Sadia Kabeya each grabbed two and Shaunagh Brown, Marlie Packer and Abby Dow also crossed the whitewash.
The Springbok Women’s cause was not helped as they lost both Catha Jacobs and captain Nolusindiso Booi to yellow cards during the first half.
France became the first team to book their place in the semi-finals with a 39-3 victory against Italy at Northland Events Centre.
Joanna Grisez’s try gave Les Bleues a third-minute lead but the Azzurre stood firm and turned round only 10-3 behind as Michela Sillari and Caroline Drouin traded late penalties.
A second Drouin penalty stretched France’s lead and Les Bleues cut loose in the final 20 minutes, scoring another four tries – including two for Grisez who ended the match with a hat-trick.
Les Bleues will play New Zealand in the second semi-final at Eden Park on Saturday, kick-off 19:30 local time (GMT+13), after the Black Ferns beat Wales 55-3 in Whangārei.
The hosts ran in nine tries at the Northland Events Centre, including two for Portia Woodman who overtook Sue Day to become the top try-scorer in Rugby World Cup history.
Elinor Snowsill missed an early penalty that would have given Wales the lead and their only points came from the boot of scrum-half Keira Bevan.
On Sunday, Marlie Packer scored a hat-trick of tries to help England beat Australia 41-5 in torrid conditions at Waitakere Stadium in Auckland.
Sarah Hunter won her 138th cap to become England’s most-capped player and opened the scoring in the eighth minute. Abbie Ward, Amy Cokayne and Alex Matthews also crossed the whitewash.
The sole reply from the Wallaroos came from Emily Chancellor, who slid over in the left corner to finish off a fine team try at the end of the first half.
England have now won 29 tests in a row and will put that run on the line against Canada, who they will play in Saturday’s first semi-final at Eden Park, kick-off 16:30 local time (GMT+13).
Canada fell behind against the USA, to a ninth-minute Joanna Kitlinski try, but responded with two of their own before half-time, through McKinley Hunt and Karen Paquin, to lead 12-8 at the break.
Paige Farries notched a third Canada try early in the second half before Alex Tessier added a fourth to wrap up a 32-11 win. Captain Sophie de Goede kicked 12 points.
England kept their quest for a third Rugby World Cup title on track with a narrow 26-19 defeat of Canada in the opening semi-final at Eden Park.
The Red Roses looked on course for a 30th straight test victory as Marlie Packer and Abby Dow both crossed the whitewash in the opening 15 minutes.
However, Canada struck back within five minutes, through Karen Paquin, before Alysha Corrigan touched down to help level the score at 12-12.
A pair of Emily Scarratt penalties either side of half-time restored England’s lead before Dow scored a brilliant try to extend it further.
Tyson Beukeboom’s converted try in the 68th minute gave Canada hope but a third Scarratt penalty gave England a seven-point advantage they would not relinquish.
It means the Red Roses will take on hosts New Zealand in next Saturday’s final (kick-off 19:30 local time) at Eden Park after the Black Ferns secured a nail-biting 25-24 win against France.
Les Bleues led 17-10 at half-time of the second semi-final, thanks to tries from Romane Ménager and Gabrielle Vernier and the boot of Caroline Drouin.
Stacey Fluhler had scored the Black Ferns try, and the hosts crossed the whitewash for a second time shortly after half-time as Ruby Tui dotted the ball down just before it reached the dead-ball line.
Theresa Fitzpatrick added a third Black Ferns try midway through the second half and a Ruahei Demant penalty minutes later gave the hosts a 25-17 lead.
France hit back through Ménager’s second try of the match to cut their deficit to a solitary point and in the final minute had a chance to win it – and reach a first ever Rugby World Cup final – but Drouin’s penalty drifted wide of the uprights.
Les Bleues will instead take on Canada in the bronze final, which will kick-off at 16:30 local time (GMT+13) at Eden Park.
France continued their impressive record in Rugby World Cup bronze finals, running in five tries to beat Canada 36-0 at Eden Park.
Les Bleues led 10-0 after 21 minutes as Caroline Drouin added a conversion and penalty to Madoussou Fall’s early try.
That is how the score remained until the final five minutes of the half, when Pauline Bourdon and Marine Ménager crossed the whitewash, Drouin converting the first, to extend their side’s advantage to 22-0 at the break.
Annaelle Deshaye scored France’s fourth try within four minutes of the restart before Ménager went over for the second time. Drouin converted both to put Les Bleues 36-0 in front.
Referee Sara Cox sent French centre Gabrielle Vernier to the sin-bin with a little under 15 minutes to go but Canada weren’t able to take advantage.
England went into the final on a record 30-test winning run and the early signs suggested they would extend that at Eden Park as Ellie Kildunne and Amy Cokayne crossed the whitewash in the opening 13 minutes.
Emily Scarratt converted both tries, which came either side of a missed Renee Holmes penalty, to give the Red Roses a 14-0 lead.
However, they were reduced to 14 players shortly afterwards as Lydia Thompson was shown a red card following a head-on-head collision with Portia Woodman.
The Black Ferns winger also left the field injured, but her team-mates responded in the 18th minute as Georgia Ponsonby was driven over the line.
Marlie Packer restored England’s two-score lead before Ayesha Leti-I’iga claimed her first try of the match. Cokayne then grabbed her second, but the hosts went into half-time within a converted try as Amy Rule crossed to make the score 26-19 at the break.
New Zealand started the second half with a bang as Stacey Fluhler scored a stunning try from the restart before Krystal Murray powered over from close range in the 49th minute.
That gave the hosts a slender three-point lead, but the 14 players of England weren’t done and Cokayne profited from another driving lineout five minutes later to edge her side 31-29 in front.
England remained in front until the 73rd minute when, with Kennedy Simon in the sin-bin, the Black Ferns scored their sixth try, Fluhler offloading to Leti-I’iga to dot down and give her side a 34-31 advantage.
It proved the winning try as England kicked a late penalty to the corner and the Black Ferns got up to disrupt their throw and regain possession at the second attempt.