'Part of our vision was wanting to inspire the nation and I think that's what we've done'
The Black Ferns’ epic World Cup run captured the imagination and hearts of a nation in a way that many didn’t see coming – including champion captain Ruahei Demant and coach Wayne Smith.
New Zealand began their World Cup title defence on home soil against rivals Australia at Eden Park. That Test alone was a momentous occasion for the team, country and the sport as rugby fans packed the stands in their thousands.
While the Black Ferns got off to a disastrous start against the Wallaroos, going behind 17-nil inside half-an-hour, the sheer courage, tenacity and passion that the team show gripped the nation.
The Black Ferns went on to score 209 points during their first four matches, before running out to a sold-out Eden Park to face France in a blockbuster semi-final.
After winning that thrilling matchup by just one-point, reminiscent of the All Blacks’ triumph over Les Bleus more than a decade earlier, the unwavering support for this team went up another gear yesterday.
New Zealand’s home of rugby had sold out for the second week in a row, as a record-breaking 42,579 supports attended the final against England.
It was undoubtedly an incredible moment for the Black Ferns and flyhalf Demant, who admitted after the three-point win that she was “worried” when New Zealand were named as the hosts.
“The level of support that we’ve received from our country has been really overwhelming and as players none of us really expected this,” Demant told reporters after the World Cup final.
“It’s still quite surreal to turn up to Eden Park, we’ve been here three times now, and it’s been sold-out two times.
“To walk out of the tunnel and you can’t even think because it’s so loud, the crowd is so loud.
“I never ever would’ve thought when they announced that the Rugby World Cup was here in New Zealand that we would get this level of fan engagement because we’re not really that type of country.
“In the past when we’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad and play countries like England and France in their home countries, their fans are next level.
“I was quite worried when they announced that we had a home World Cup, but the way the country’s turned out, you couldn’t have scripted it.
“As a team we spoke about, part of our vision was wanting to inspire the nation and I think that’s what we’ve done and it’s still quite funny saying that because we’ve achieve it and it’s quite a hard thing to do.”
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World No. 1 England raced out to a commanding 14-nil lead inside 15-mintues after tries to Ellie Kildunne and Amy Cokayne.
But disaster struck for the World Cup favourites, who were on a 30-Test unbeaten run, as Lydia Thompson was sent off in the 17th-minute for a head clash.
England were down to 14-players, and would have to overcome a stadium of five million if they were to win their first women’s Rugby World Cup since 2014.
While they held on to lead at half-time, the Black Ferns eventually took the lead through a try to Krystal Murray early the second half.
But England’s rampaging rolling maul continued to wreak havoc, with hooker Cockayne crossing for a hat-trick, but the Black Ferns ultimately stood up when they needed to most.
Eden Park was sent into a wild frenzy as the full-time whistle was blown, and the Black Ferns had completed an incredible upset win over the Red Roses.
“I never thought in 100 years you’d be standing out in the middle of Eden Park and 40,000 people would be chanting Black Ferns. Something ignited this country around women’s rugby and we’ve got to make it count,” coach Wayne Smith said.
“We’ve got to make it count with seven years olds, eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds, 10-year-olds who all play ripper but when they go to High School there’s no team or no coach, and they’ll go play other sports.
“That was (the) most phenomenal rugby moment of my life standing out there and hearing that crowd chanting the names of these girls, it was phenomenal.”
History was made at Eden Park on Saturday but with a stadium of five million supporting this team, and the growth of women’s rugby as well, the sky really is the limit for the Black Ferns and generations to come.
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