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'We're underdogs': Black Ferns wary of 'frightening' and 'efficient' Red Roses

By AAP
Maud Muir of England and Poppy Cleall of England celebrate after winning the Rugby World Cup 2021 Semifinal match between Canada and England at Eden Park on November 05, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

New Zealand coach Wayne Smith knows what his team need to do to beat England in Saturday’s final of the women’s Rugby World Cup, but delivering the win that ensures the Black Ferns retain the title will be another matter entirely.

Smith’s side saw off France in the semi-finals after England edged Canada to set up the decider at Auckland’s Eden Park, with the defending champions and hosts taking on the tournament favourites in a long-anticipated clash.

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With a forward pack that has dominated opponents throughout the World Cup, England will go into the final as favourites after Saturday’s win extended the Red Roses’ record run to 30 consecutive victories.

“I’ve done a lot of work on England as all the coaches have, they’re pretty frightening like, they’re so efficient in what they do,” said Smith, who was appointed head coach after the Black Ferns’ northern hemisphere tour last year.

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“You know, it’s easy to say don’t give away scrums, don’t give away penalties, don’t give away lineouts because all three or two of them, scrums and lineouts, lead to the third, which is penalties.

“So, we’re going to have to work out strategically how we’re going to manage that.”

New Zealand were the last team to win against the English when they beat the Red Roses in San Diego in July 2019, but since then the English have handed the Black Ferns heavy back-to-back defeats during their European tour last summer.

That recent record means former All Blacks back Smith, a two-time Rugby World Cup-winning assistant coach in the men’s game, finds himself in unfamiliar territory going into the decider.

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“We’re underdogs I’ve never been in that position before, actually,” he said.

“Other than with the (Super Rugby side Canterbury) Crusaders, but with the All Blacks never. So, it’ll be a new feeling for me and I think we’ll have a good week.”

England coach Simon Middleton was relishing the prospect of taking on the six-time champions in their own backyard, even before seeing Smith’s side defeat the French in their semi-final.

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“We came here and we celebrated New Zealand getting the Rugby World Cup because it gave us a shot at trying to achieve the ultimate goal for any rugby player, which is to win a World Cup in the backyard of the world champions,” he said.

“If it’s the Black Ferns in the final next week, we won’t be disappointed.”

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