England Women finished the International Women’s Rugby Series undefeated after overcoming the Black Ferns 21-29 in Rotorua on Saturday.
Tries from Emily Scarratt, Abbie Scott, Lydia Thompson, Marlie Packer and Vicky Fleetwood held off a determined Black Ferns who led 14-7 after 30 minutes to give England their first away win to New Zealand since 2001.
England kicked off proceedings with an early break from Thompson who passed out to Scarratt to put the Red Roses ahead in the third minute.
However, the Black Ferns made the most of their opportunities, coming back to score two fortuitous tries in the hands of scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge and then a Portia Woodman interception, giving the home team the advantage with the score 14-7.
England kept the pressure on and a yellow card for New Zealand captain Fiao’o Faamausili in the 35th minute allowed Abbie Scott to put down from a rolling maul to bring the scores even at half time.
The Red Roses came back out in deteriorating conditions to make the most of their number advantage with Thompson overcoming Woodman to break free into the corner for her 27th career try and third of the Series.
England kept the momentum to score a second driving maul try from a line out when Packer went over in the 55th minute. The maul continued to prove effective for England who demonstrated a highly effective set piece and control throughout the second half with Fleetwood scoring their fifth and final try.
New Zealand kept battling to the end with a Victoria Subritsky-Nafatali try coming with two minutes left on the clock after the Black Ferns pressured England’s defence.
England Women head coach Simon Middleton said: “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.
“We’ve got some great kickers of the ball and a lot of energy on the field and that came good for us tonight.
“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.”
Both teams went into the final Test undefeated, with England having beaten Australia 10-53 in Wellington and a hard fought 20-27 victory over Canada in Christchurch. The Black Ferns were also unbeaten in the Series, overcoming Canada 28-16 and Australia 44-17.
The Red Roses have now won their last nine starts, having landed the Six Nations Grand Slam earlier in the year. They next head to the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in Dublin on Wednesday 9 August. The Red Roses are drawn in Pool B alongside Spain, Italy and USA.
Captain Sarah Hunter added: “We have built through the Series and to come out and to put in a performance like that against New Zealand is something we’re very pleased and happy about.
“We wanted to stick to our processes, stay patient and that’s exactly what we did today. We took everything we’ve been doing in training onto the pitch tonight.
“We’ve worked really hard over the last few days on the short turn around and we certainly put that into practice tonight. Everyone did their job and what they needed to do which is exactly what you want from your players in games like that.”
New Zealand 21 – 29 England
Tries: Scarratt, A Scott, Thompson, Packer, Fleetwood
Conversions: Scarratt (2)
England match-day 23 against New Zealand, International Women’s Rugby Series
15 Danielle Waterman (Bristol, 70 caps, E Scott (67))
14 Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 34 caps)
13 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield, 69 caps)
12 Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls, 67 caps, Reed (59))
11 Kay Wilson (Richmond, 45 caps)
10 Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 86 caps)
9 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 37 caps, Mason (40))
1 Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 124 caps, Cornborough (54))
2 Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 28 caps, Fleetwood (54))
3 Sarah Bern (Bristol, 11 caps, Lucas (54))
4 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 105 caps)
5 Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 17 caps)
6 Alex Matthews (Richmond, 32 caps)
7 Marlie Packer (Bristol, 47 caps, Noel-Smith (59))
8 Sarah Hunter (c) (Bristol, 93 caps, Millar-Mills (67))
16 Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 62 caps)
17 Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls, 26 caps)
18 Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 46 caps)
19 Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 46 caps)
20 Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 32 caps)
21 La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 66 caps)
22 Amber Reed (Bristol, 39 caps)
23 Emily Scott (Saracens, 23 caps)
England Women fixtures, International Women’s Rugby Series
Australia 10 – 53 England
Friday 9 June, Porirua Park, Wellington
Canada 20 – 27 England Women
Tuesday 13 June, Rugby Park, Christchurch
New Zealand 21 – 29 Women
Saturday 17 June, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Report courtesy of England Rugby