The first ever WXV1 global tournament has been decided, with England taking the inaugural title after a phenomenal third round victory against New Zealand’s Black Ferns. England’s five try triumph saw the forwards take centre stage, as Alex Matthews, Lark Atkin-Davies, Sarah Bern, Morwenna Talling and Zoe Aldcroft all crossed over to score.
The Red Roses retain their status as the Number One ranked side in the world, as they complete an epic unbeaten 2023 season. England set the standard after a Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam, back-to-back Summer wins, and now a trio of WXV1 victories against Australia, Canada and New Zealand. England also wrap up a hat-trick of WXV titles for the Six Nation sides, with Ireland winning WXV3, and Italy winning WXV2 last weekend.
The Red Roses have now only lost three of their last 60 test matches, as they end a year unbeaten for the third time in four seasons.
Speaking after the match, England captain Marlie Packer praised her squad, and gave a nod to the younger players in her side. This new look Red Roses were able to overcame their old enemy, and put to bed the demons from 12 months ago, when they lost the Rugby World Cup Final to the Black Ferns, at a sold out Eden Park.
“I think it’s always been a massive rivalry. I can remember when I came back into the squad back in 2013, we were playing (against New Zealand) at Esher rugby club in a three test series, and it’s massive. I think for younger players coming into the squad, it’s actually like, ‘don’t look back at history’. Be present in the moment for it, any given team will win on the day if they perform.
“We just need to make sure as a group that we perform on the day. For the younger girls that are coming up through, they need to enjoy these moments. Enjoy the crowd, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy that rivalry. Because, that’s what we train so hard for, away from the pitch.”
England started the match on fire, and dominated the early goings in all aspects of the game. An opening 16-phase run of play took the ball to the Black Ferns try-line, before Chelsea Bremner’s turnover briefly halted the attacking momentum. England dominated the following scrum, and sent the Black Ferns crumbling on the back-foot. Number eight Alex Matthews picked from the deck, and powered over to score a fourth minute try. This red-hot start was extended by Holly Aitchison, who nailed the following conversion.
The Red Roses continued to impose their early dominance, and sent a penalty to the New Zealand corner. A relentless wave of white jerseys powered through the Black Ferns, with hooker Lark Atkin-Davies grounding the ball from the back of the driving pack. Atkin-Davies scored four tries from the maul in last weekend’s win over Canada, which set a record for hooker’s in the women’s international game.
The Red Roses once again had the Black Ferns pinned on their try-line, and bombarded the defence with short carries. Prop Sarah Bern spotted a gap in the wall, and demanded the ball from scrum-half Natasha Hunt, for a try from close range. Aitchison could not build England’s lead with the kick from out wide, but a 19-0 lead just after 20 minutes was an immense statement against the reigning World Champions.
England looked to have scored a fourth first-half try just before the half-hour mark, with flying fullback Ellie Kildunne picking up Aitchison’s grubber kick to score in the corner. However, the superb piece of skill was ruled out by the TMO, as the Harlequin stepped into touch by the finest of margins.
New Zealand finally made a dent in England’s defence, and got a try on the board following their first trip to the Red Roses 22m. This score came on the cusp of half-time, and began with a centre-field scrum on the half-way line. Black Ferns number eight Liana Mikaele-Tu’u picked from the back, and sent a nice offload to Ruby Tui. The explosive winger took off along the right touchline, and was halted close to England’s try-line. New Zealand then shipped the ball to flanker Kennedy Simon, who went alone to score despite overlapping options. Fullback Renee Holmes slotted the conversion, and reduced the deficit to 19-7 as the side’s headed for the break.
The early stages of the second half saw the Black Ferns continue to build in attack, and responded well after the half-time interval. After peppering the Red Roses with attacking breaks, the Black Ferns were back over to score just nine minutes after the re-start. A unique line-out move saw the arial Layla Sae pop the ball down to the wrap-around pack, yet England were able to handle the Black Ferns forwards.
The ball was then shipped out to the backs, and a nice switch move sent the ball to Tui, who provided the assist for Katelyn Vaha’akolo to score in the corner. Holmes’ conversion was sent wide, yet the 19-12 score-line had narrowed the deficit to just one score.
Tempers began to flare in the high stakes match, as replacement England prop Hannah Botterman entered a shoving match with New Zealand tight-head Amy Rule. However, England then settled back into their grove, and re-started their try-scoring at a crucial point.
The move began with Botterman’s drive at the scrum, before replacement centre Meg Jones fired the ball up in the midfield. The Red Roses ran their phases, before flanker Morwenna Talling powered over from close range. Aitchison added the two extra points, as England gained a second half foot-hold after 52 minutes.
England once again showcased their forwards in their fifth try, as the move began with Sarah Bern’s line-break. The Bristol Bears star hit top gear to break through the Black Ferns, with the Red Roses again happy to dig in for the hard yards. Zoe Aldcroft was next to power over from close range, as the Gloucester-Hartpury lock extended England’s lead. Aitchison continued to present her sharpshooting off the tee with another well taken conversion.
Ellie Kildunne then had a second try cancelled out, after charging through the Black Ferns with a rapid turn of pace. Kildunne exploded through Vaha’akolo to score, However centre Tatyana Heard was offside at an earlier play in the build up to the try.
The World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year Awards followed the match, with Katelyn Vaha’akolo of the Black Ferns winning the Breakthrough Player of the Year Award. Speaking in the post match media, Black Ferns Coach Allan Bunting praised the young winger, after a short yet stand-out tenure in the black jersey.
“She’s been outstanding. From when she first came in she didn’t know where to stand, and if she can leave the wing. She’s been brilliant, she’s been persistently getting better, upgrading her own skills and doing extra work and always asking how she can get better, and she’s improved massively. She’s been a stand out player in our eyes.”
England Captain Marlie Packer then won the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year Award, after an awesome year for the Red Roses and Saracens.
Packer was named along with six of her Red Roses teammates, in World Rugby’s Womens Dream Team of the Year. England’s captain praised her side’s immense performances in the post-match media, as she returns home as the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year. Packer was elated to receive the personal award, and spoke humbly after the match giving all credit to her teammates drive England on to continued successes.
“It mean’s everything. To be fair, last season I thought was my season for it. I felt like I had a great season last year and when I wasn’t anywhere near it I was gutted. So, to then be nominated this season meant everything, and you know, I don’t get my hopes up, I just make sure that I put in a good performance out because it’s about the team.
“You never know when it’s going to be your last time in a white shirt, so you’ve got to fill it, and do your best performance. It’s topped off tonight. 99 caps (for England), winning the WXV for the first ever time that it’s a tournament and winning World Player of the Year. I don’t think tonight can be topped off any time soon.”
“It’s super impressive (seven England players in World Rugby Women’s Dream Team). I think that goes down to hard work and dedication that the girls put in to keep performing. Not just at international level, but week in, week out at club. I think the league is a phenomenal league to be in, in England, and it keeps pushing. It keeps making you a better player constantly and asking questions of you.
“The squad that we brought out here for WXV, and plus the players that were left at home, like Louis Deacon said, we are in a really good place. It’s a match day 23 that took the field today, but it’s a whole squad effort.”
WORLD RUGBY WOMENS DREAM TEAM OF THE YEAR
1. Krystal Murray (NZL) 2. Lark Atkin-Davies (ENG) 3. Sarah Bern (ENG) 4. Zoe Aldcroft (ENG) 5. Maiakawanakaulani Roos (NZL) 6. Alex Matthews (ENG) 7. Marlie Packer (ENG) 8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u (NZL)
9. Pauline Bourdon Sansus (FRA) 10. Ruahei Demant (NZL) 11. Abby Dow (ENG) 12. Gabrielle Vernier (FRA) 13. Amy du Plessis (NZL) 14. Ruby Tui (NZL) 15. Ellie Kildunne (ENG)
NEW ZEALAND: 12
TRIES: 1 (Simon 39′)
CONVERSIONS: 1 (Holmes 39′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS: 0
RED CARDS: 0
15. Renee Holmes 14. Ruby Tui 13. Amy du Plessis 12. Sylvia Brunt 11. Mererangi Paul 10. Ruahei Demant (co-captain) 9. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu 1. Kate Henwood 2. Georgia Ponsonby 3. Amy Rule 4. Maiakawanakaulani Roos 5. Chelsea Bremner 6. Alana Bremner 7. Kennedy Simon (co-captain) 8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u
REPLACEMENTS: 16. Luka Connor 17. Krystal Murray 18. Sophie Fisher 19. Layla Sae 20. Lucy Jenkins 21. Iritana Hohaia 22. Patricia Maliepo 23. Katelyn Vaha’akolo
TRIES: 5 (Matthews 4′, Atkin-Davies 13′, Bern 22′, Talling 52′, Aldcroft 68′,)
CONVERSIONS: 4 (Aitchison 4′, 13′, 52′, 68′,)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS: 0
RED CARDS: 0
15. Ellie Kildunne 14. Abby Dow 13. Helena Rowland 12. Tatyana Heard 11. Claudia MacDonald 10. Holly Aitchison 9. Natasha Hunt 1. Mackenzie Carson 2. Lark Atkin-Davies 3. Sarah Bern 4. Zoe Aldcoft 5. Rosie Galligan 6. Morwenna Talling 7. Marlie Packer 8. Alex Matthews
REPLACEMENTS: 16. Connie Powell 17. Hannah Botterman 18. Maud Muir 19. Sarah Beckett 20. Maisy Allen 21. Ella Wyrwas 22. Megan Jones 23. Jess Breach
ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS VS NEW ZEALAND: WXV
15. Ellie Kildunne 8
14. Abby Dow 7
13. Helena Rowland 7
12. Tatyana Heard 6.5
11. Claudia MacDonald 7
10. Holly Aitchison 7
9. Natasha Hunt 6.5
1. Mackenzie Carson 6.5
2. Lark Atkin-Davies 7
3. Sarah Bern 8.5
4. Zoe Aldcoft 7.5
5. Rosie Galligan 7
6. Morwenna Talling 7
7. Marlie Packer 8.5
8. Alex Matthews 8
16. Connie Powell (Lark Atkin-Davies 72′) 6
17. Hannah Botterman (Mackenzie Carson 46′) 7
18. Maud Muir (Sarah Bern 71′) 6
19. Sarah Beckett (Rosie Galligan 72′) 6
20. Maisy Allen (Morwenna Talling (HIA) 30′ / 71′) 6.5
21. Ella Wyrwas (Natasha Hunt 63′) 6.5
22. Megan Jones (Tatyana Head 51′ (blood) / Helena Rowland 67′) 6.5
23. Jess Breach (Claudia MacDonald 71′) 6