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'I couldn't believe it': How Black Ferns great reacted to thrilling semi-final

By Finn Morton
New Zealand celebrate after winning the Rugby World Cup 2021 Semifinal match between New Zealand and France at Eden Park on November 05, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Four-time Rugby World Cup winner Anna Richards expected Saturday’s semi-final between France and New Zealand to be close, but still “couldn’t believe” how the Test ended.

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The Black Ferns booked their spot in this weekend’s World Cup final against England after beating France 25-24 in a thrilling Test at Eden Park.

French flyhalf Caroline Drouin had the chance to silence the New Zealand crowd and send her side into the final with a late penalty attempt, but hooked her shot wide left.

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Drouin was otherwise brilliant in the Test, scoring nine of France’s points, but the semi-final will somewhat be defined in history by that one moment.

The Black Ferns’ desperation in the dying stages saw them hang on, as backs frantically became forwards and flooded the breakdown, before the full-time whistle had sounded.

New Zealand rugby legend Anna Richards, who has been inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame, said she had mentally prepared herself for Drouin’s penalty attempt being successful.

“Both games were amazing. I thought the first game was wonderful. I was talking to a mate of mine who came up and watched it and he said both games were outstanding,” Richards said on SENZ’s The Rugby Run.

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“I honestly thought that their 10 would slot that goal no worries, I had mentally gone ‘oh well there you go.’ I couldn’t believe it when she missed.

“It was a real semi-final I think from both teams. They were a little bit under the pump. I wish they hadn’t quite taken so many quick taps,” she added.

“I thought they had the team and I thought they were playing the type of rugby to win that. But I think I said to you, I thought it was going to be really close.

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“France has a wonderful team, now with Romane Menager back and she just showed how good she is with two tries.

“It was always going to be a tight one and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had lost because France are so good, but I thought we could do it.”

The Black Ferns played France twice during their 2021 end-of-year tour, and lost both Test matches by emphatic margins.

After losing to England in Exeter and Northampton, New Zealand were beaten by France 38-13 in Pau, and then 29-7 in Castres.

But under the guidance of supercoach Wayne Smith, who won two men’s Rugby World Cups as an assistant coach with the All Blacks, the Black Ferns have turned their form around.

“I just feel good for the girls because it’s been such a tough 11 months, 12 months,” Richards added.

“They were under the pump overseas, massive scrutiny from media. They were getting dissed by everybody and look how much they’ve turned it around.

“The standard of play that they’re getting out there, I just feel great for them.”

In the other semi-final, World No. 1 England booked their place in the final after surviving a genuine scare against Canada.

England were up 12-nil early in the contest before Canada scored two tries to level the Test. The Red Roses never gave up their lead but certainly under some pressure after Vickii Cornborough was sent to the sin bin.

The Red Roses ended up winning 26-19 and extended their incredible winning streak to 30-Tests.

“The English pack is outstanding and they’re like a well-oiled machine, so we just need to get a bit of parity in that area.

“We’ve got to make the most of our possession. I think we’ve got to tidy up our kicking game a little bit.

“But England showed us that they’re not infallible. I thought the Canadians put them under a lot of pressure, and I thought the Canadians had their chances to win that to be honest.

“England could come out and be this amazing side on Saturday but finals footy there’s always gonna be a few nerves so it’ll just be who holds their metal and who produces on their day.”

Red Roses coach Simon Middleton said it was a “classic” semi-final against Canada, as he credited the “character” that England showed to win the thrilling Test.

“It was a classic one, a classic semi-final, who can hold their nerve and we just held ours at the end,” Middleton said after the semi-final.

“I just want to throw out a massive congratulations out to Canada, I thought they were absolutely world class today. They gave it everything.

“They’ve been doing it tough in the tournament and they’ve lost a few players, but they were outstanding today, and we had to give it everything to get home.

“We had a couple of moments where if we’d backed off and we hadn’t showed the character we had, Canada would’ve beaten us.

“That’s what this side’s about, it’s about being able to stay in the fight, show the character that we’ve developed and that’s what they did today, and they showed it in spade loads.”

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