Simon Middleton’s side, ranked No 1 in the world, battle the world champions in the first of two mouthwatering Tests
England battle New Zealand in the first of two colossal Test matches between the No 1 ranked side in the world and the world champions.
The Black Ferns, who are ranked No 2 in the world, host the World Cup in 2022, adding extra spice in the build-up to next year’s tournament. England’s Shaunagh Brown has promised “a huge physical battle” and “big hits, exciting runs and massive hand-offs”.
Simply put, this should be a gripping contest at Sandy Park in Exeter packed with thrills and spills. This will be a marker for England’s current level before they do it all over again against New Zealand before taking on Canada and the United States. While also a chance to back up their credentials from this year’s Women’s Six Nations, after triumphing 17-15 over France at the Twickenham Stoop to clinch glory after Poppy Cleall’s try.
Simon Middleton’s side are the slight favourites with the bookies, but you can barely split these two sides, despite the hosts missing outstanding centre Emily Scarratt due to a broken her leg, though that does present the intriguing debut of Olympic sevens star Holly Aitchison.
Follow all the latest updates, the latest score, analysis and reaction in a huge day for women’s rugby:
England 36-12 New Zealand, 80 minutes
A penalty to England and a last chance to attack with the clock in the red. Pushed into the Black Ferns 22, where England try to maul.
England 36-12 New Zealand, 78 minutes
Zoe Harrison briefly goes all Harlem Globetrotters as she loses control of the ball, perching it on one finger above her head as she takes contact. She eventually knocks on, but that’ll lift her spirits – after an incredibly effective day at fly-half she is named as the Player of the Match.
England 36-12 New Zealand, 77 minutes
England’s restart drifts straight out and New Zealand will try their best to get one more, Aldora Itunu with a particularly punchy carry, but the Black Ferns largely unable to make easy progress. And England will have a scrum feed.
TRY! England 36-12 NEW ZEALAND (Stacey Fluhler, 74 minutes)
New Zealand get one back! It’ll surely be but a consolation but a second score for the Black Ferns.
It’s smart handling inside the England 22 after intricate offloading had made the initial entry. They have an advantage as Krystal Murray carries well, and the strangely quiet Fluhler is the end-player on the line as Kennedy Simon puts her in. The Olympic gold medallist has time for a smile before racing back to halfway, but as the conversion falls short and slides by, this is but a matter of mathematics – England will win.
England 36-7 New Zealand, 72 minutes
England empty their bench – on come the backs, the recently wed and renamed Leanne Infante, Helena Rowland and (late call-up after Amber Reed’s injury) Sarah McKenna on for Claudia MacDonald, Lagi Tuima and Ellie Kildunne.
TRY! ENGLAND 36-7 New Zealand (Abby Dow try, 71 minutes)
An errant pass and Abby Dow is away! She’s been dangerous enough today with bodies around her; there’ll be no catching the Wasps wing as she sprints for another England score.
New Zealand, fighting against the dying of the light, had flung the ball wildly wide and Dow has the simple task of gathering the bouncing ball and slipping into top gear. Zoe Harrison converts.
England 29-7 New Zealand, 68 minutes
Sandy Park oohs as Lydia Thompson lays the hammer down on Les Elder as she explores a rather uncomfortably blocked passageway down the Worcester winger’s touchline. Defence has become a real strength of Thompson’s game and Ayesha Leti-I’iga’s better moments today have tended to come when she has involved herself elsewhere.
A New Zealand knock-on allows England to replace Poppy Cleall with Harriet Millar-Mills.
England 29-7 New Zealand, 66 minutes
Two penalties later and New Zealand are back in that right corner, trying their best to drive for the line with close-in carriers.
And now they maul! England stand the carrier up and in the bodies pile like piranhas on fallen flesh, England first nudging forward and then driven back, but with the ball very much engulfed in the centre of it, even as it crosses the line there is little to concern the Red Roses. It reaches an inevitable conclusion – held up in goal, and a goal line drop out.
England 29-7 New Zealand, 63 minutes
New Zealand’s day goes from bad to worse as Chelsea Alley takes one slap bang in the forehead as a teammate’s whipped pass finds only the short passage into the centre’s dome. England were offside, so a reprieve, and New Zealand, getting desparate, go for the corner.
TRY! ENGLAND 29-7 New Zealand (Holly Aitchison try, 62 minutes)
She’s going for the line! A try on debut for the Olympic sevens star!
Claudia MacDonald had drawn up the Black Ferns line with a ponderous exploration across the face, offloading to Ellie Kildunne inserting herself. The full-back puts her former England Sevens teammate through a great gaping chasm, and Aitchison has plenty of toe to beat the chasers to score a deserved debut try.