'Records have tumbled, personalities have been projected and barriers smashed'
A buzzing Eden Park will provide a fitting finale to the Women’s Rugby World Cup, as England and New Zealand look to write their own piece of sporting history.
England and New Zealand will go head-to-head in the “greatest women’s rugby event ever”, capping a World Cup which has boosted the profile of women’s rugby and is book-ended by sell-out crowds at Eden Park.
Almost 40,000 fans filled the iconic Auckland stadium for matches on the opening day and more will be present on Saturday for the final, which kicks-off at 5.30pm AEDT.
The pace of ticket sales increased markedly when New Zealand held on to beat France 25-24 in last weekend’s semi-final, and extra seating has been added to meet demand.
Around 2.6 million fans worldwide watched live coverage of the 2017 final in which New Zealand beat England 41-32 – the audience for Saturday’s final is expected to eclipse that number.
Final figures are not yet available but the expected world-record crowd on Saturday should take overall attendance for the tournament close to 200,000.
“Rugby World Cup 2021 has proven to be a triumph for rugby, women’s sport and New Zealand,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.
“On and off the field, records have tumbled, personalities have been projected and barriers smashed as the stars of women’s rugby have shone brightly, underscored by two incredible semi-finals.”
Beaumont, a former England men’s captain, said the tournament had been “the greatest women’s rugby event ever and an inspiration for girls and boys”.
Tournament director Michelle Hooper said the event had unfolded as if perfectly scripted, with tight semi-finals leading to a dream final between world No.1 England and defending champions New Zealand.
“What we saw during the semi-finals was arguably the greatest spectacle of international rugby this country has seen in a very long time,” Hooper said.
“Those two matches have had an immeasurable impact on the game that we may not see the true results of until generations to come when young girls and boys will talk about those moments.”
England are attempting to add to a world-record winning streak of 30 Tests that began with a win over New Zealand in 2019.
The Kiwis hope to add to their five world titles with a first achieved on home turf.
The final offers a classic contrast in styles between England’s hard-nosed forwards and their daunting rolling maul, and New Zealand’s always-joyous back play made sharper by a number of world sevens series stars.
England captain Sarah Hunter will play her 140th test on Saturday, extending her record as rugby’s most-capped female player.
She said there was a sense of calm in the England camp.
“We’re just going to go in and play without fear because there’s many things you’ll never experience in life and for some that’s to play in a Rugby World Cup final,” she said.
New Zealand winger Ruby Tui has become one of the stars of the tournament for her exuberance on and off the field.
She sees Saturday’s final as a milestone on the long road towards recognition for women’s rugby, recalling the start of that journey 12 years ago.
“Imagine this,” Tui said. “Nobody knows who the Black Ferns are. Nobody knows what they look like. Nobody follows women’s rugby.
“We were told, ‘You will never be paid’. We were told, ‘We’re not going to give you Eden Park for the World Cup. We’ll give you somewhere that holds 5000 because you’re not going to sell it out. Women’s rugby doesn’t matter’.
“Here we are 12 years later. Eden Park’s sold out, bro.”
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