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'Going to be magic': How semi-final thriller has prepared the Black Ferns for England

By Finn Morton
Kendra Cocksedge of New Zealand celebrates after winning 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)

Rugby World Cup winner Mils Muliaina believes the Black Ferns will “take a lot out” of their semi-final against France, as they overcame immense pressure to qualify for the final.


The Black Ferns will look to defend their World Cup crown this Saturday at Eden Park against World No. 1 England, who are currently on a 30-Test win streak.

New Zealand booked their place in the decider with a thrilling 25-24 win over France, who had dominated the Black Ferns in two Tests just a year earlier.

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France had the chance to win the Test in the dying stages, and qualify for their first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup final, as French flyhalf Caroline Drouin lined up a penalty attempt.

Drouin, who was otherwise impressive on the night, pulled her shot wide left, and the Black Ferns frantically held on until the full-time siren sounded.

Reminiscent of the historic one-point win over France in the World Cup final at Eden Park 11 years earlier, New Zealand rugby fans could breathe again as the ball was kicked into touch.

Muliaina, who was part of that drought-breaking World Cup winning All Blacks squad, said he was “glad” that the Black Ferns experienced the pressure of a hard-fought knockout Test.


“It’s probably actually fitting that it’s happened this way,” Muliaina said on The Breakdown.

“If you look at it historically, the Black Ferns have dominated World Cups… but the whole losing the end-of-year tour has got people involved again thinking ‘man we need to get behind our wahine and get them over the line.’

“That pressure and the gameplan that they actually implemented, and everything else that’s gone on as well, and to finally bring it together for this one game.


“I know it’s not quite over yet but I think they’re gonna take a lot out of that game yesterday because of the pressure they were under.

“When you get to finals footy, a lot of that will happen and I’m glad they experienced it and (have) come out the other end.

“We need to get behind them once again. One more game and our wahine can get up and it’s going to be magic.”

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

New Zealand were beaten convincingly in Pau 38-13, before taking the field again just a week later in Castres where they lost 29-7.

Samoan international Taylah Johnson said it was a redeeming moment for a lot of these players, who had overcome tough odds to win in front of their home crowd.

“It’s almost like redemption for a lot of those player as well,” Johnson said.

“After losing to them on the end-of-year tour last year, and then to be able to beat them in such a crucial game, it just kind of makes you flush what happened at that end-of-year-tour.

“France were the favourites heading into that game even on some of the odds so it was great to see New Zealand get up.”

New Zealand began their World Cup campaign against Trans-Tasman rivals Australia, who they’d recently played twice in August.

While the Black Ferns were deservedly favourites ahead of this clash at Eden Park, the Wallaroos shocked rugby world as they raced to an early 17-nil lead.

The Black Ferns eventually fought their way back, and scored 41 unanswered points as they got their tournament off to a flyer – although they certainly survived a scare.

Former New Zealand international Chelsea Semple said on The Breakdown that the “evolution” of this team throughout the World Cup has been crucial.

“I think that’s such a positive thing because we saw the Black Ferns in the opening Test against Australia, and it was the first time for a lot of those girls playing in front of a packed out stadium and we probably didn’t handle the pressure too well in the opening 20,” Semple said.

“To see the evolution of how these girls are adapting and being able to handle that coming into the later stages of this tournament is just so crucial, so important.

“I really feel for the French 10 because she is an outstanding player and she doesn’t miss kicks very often, so I know she’ll be hurting today. But can’t say I’m not happy that she did miss that one.”

The Black Ferns are potentially 80 minutes away from hoisting another Women’s Rugby World Cup, but they face an almighty Test against the Red Roses of England.

England are on a 30-Test win streak, although their win over Canada in their semi-final didn’t come easy by any means.

After racing out to an early 12-nil lead, Canada struck back with two tries of their own to level the scores.

The Red Roses ended up winning 26-19, and will be looking to continue their recent dominance over New Zealand in the biggest game of every World Cup cycle.

Before playing France on their 2021 end-of-year tour, the Black Ferns were beaten 43-12 by England in Exeter, and lost again the next week in Northampton 56-15.

Semple acknowledged that the Black Ferns would “have to step up another notch” against the Red Roses.

“I think Canada, wow, I was expecting a far bigger score line. I thought England would have put a lot more points on them but they were there to play and I haven’t seen Canada play that well in a long time.

“They just played with absolutely no fear. They didn’t care they were coming up against a team who had won 29 games on the trot.

“They played with a love of heart. In terms of England, they didn’t do anything surprising.

“The England girls we know what they’re good at, it’s their attacking kicking, their territory kicking is outstanding, it’s the best in the women’s game, so I think we’ll have to go with the same back three that started.

“Not too many surprises from England but we know we’re going to have to step up another notch again.”


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