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'They are the team to beat': Black Ferns claim 'underdogs' tag before final

By Finn Morton
Sarah Hirini and Kendra Cocksedge of New Zealand leave the field 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 Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Black Ferns flanker Sarah Hirini has claimed the “underdogs” tag for her side ahead of the World Cup final against World No. 1 England at Eden Park this weekend.

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New Zealand has never lost a women’s Rugby World Cup final, and have beaten the Red Roses on the biggest stage in women’s rugby in four of their five tournament triumphs.

The two traditional rugby rivals battled it out for the sports ultimate prize in the 2017 World Cup, with the Black Ferns winning 41-32 at Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast.

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But the Red Roses are red hot favourites ahead of the final this Saturday in enemy territory, as they look to extend their record-breaking winning streak to 31 Test matches.

Hirini, who won an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo last year and a World Cup in 2017, piled the pressure on England ahead of the decider as she claimed “they are the team to beat.”

“I think we’re definitely underdogs,” Hirini told reporters.

“We came into this tournament ranked number three, now probably ranked number two.

“They are the team to beat and we’ve definitely talked about it like that so we know that we have to do everything right.

“We can’t make basic errors like we probably did in that semi-final if we want to beat England this weekend.”

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The Black Ferns began their World Cup campaign on New Zealand soil with a disastrous opening half an hour against rivals Australia at Eden Park.

Australia raced out to an early 17-nil lead, before the home side piled on 41 unanswered points – and ultimately won the Test by a comfortable margin.

Including their opening match of the Cup, the Black Ferns have scored an incredible 234-points in their five matches so far – but their biggest Test awaits them.

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England have been clinical throughout the World Cup, including a 41-5 win over Australia in the quarterfinals, before beating Canada in last weekend’s semi-final.

The Red Roses have been dominant for years, and it would’ve shocked just about everyone in the rugby world if they hadn’t qualified for the World Cup decider.

New Zealand played the Red Roses twice during their 2021 end-of-year tour, and lost both matches by emphatic margins.

England rugby has clearly benefited from professionalism within the women’s game, and as Hirini discussed, “they deserve” to be in the final.

“We’re not going to shy away from that either. When you have time together there’s a lot of resources, there’s a lot of habits that you pick up from other players,” she said.

“They are probably able to get systems a lot better or faster than what we are.

“Potentially they’ve probably had a little bit more of a chill week whereas we’ve had to come back together quite quickly.

“They’re professional, they’ve deserved to be there. It’s great for our sport, that’s probably number one, and I think the more teams that can get professional, I don’t know what the next World Cup would look like if there’s another three or four teams professional.

“It’s great for them and probably why they’re 30 games straight on the trot.

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