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The three fixable factors behind Eddie Jones' England stagnation

Eddie Jones' England weren't far away from making the grade.

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'It was a massive call… she'll go down in history, Ngan-Woo, with the likes of Stephen Donald'

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

When the All Blacks ended their 24-year World Cup drought more than a decade ago, New Zealanders were calling for Stephen Donald to become Prime Minister at the victory parade.

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Wearing a jersey that was a few sizes too small, fourth choice flyhalf ‘Beaver’ casually slotted what would be the World Cup winning penalty – and ultimately etched his name into rugby folklore.

It was more than a redeeming moment for the star pivot, who had overcome intense scrutiny following a Bledisloe Cup Test in Hong Kong the year before.

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While the Black Ferns may not have been criticised as much, or certainly as harshly following their Northern Tour last year, the team had their own Stephen Donald moment in last weekend’s final.

Reminiscent of what the All Blacks had managed to achieve, the women in black captivated the Eden Park crowd as they recorded an incredible 34-31 upset win over World No. 1 England.

The Red Roses had scored a number of tries during the final courtesy of their rampaging rolling maul, and they set up for a chance to snatch the final as the clocked ticked towards 80-minutes.

But similar to Donald’s heroics 11-years before, Black Ferns lock Joanah Ngan-Woo made a World Cup winning play when her team and country needed her to – as she stole the ball on England’s throw.

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The World Cup was theirs, the Black Ferns were champions, and Joanah Ngan-Woo was the hero.

Six-time Super Rugby champion Bryn Hall believes Ngan-Woo will “go down in history” after her match-winning play in the World Cup final.

“They had so much success around, it was three lineout maul tries of four lineout maul tries, and being so dominant,” Hall said on The Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“But hearing Wayne Smith after the game, his press conference, they did about six-months of work around England and what their triggers and what their queues would have been.

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“Knowing Wayne Smith the professor, he would’ve had that many clips and showing what that forward pack what queues they would’ve had and what their movements were.

“The preparation that they would’ve done to give the girls the confidence to be able to do that, just seeing the right pictures and they feel like they can execute that under pressure and do that, I think that led into this decision of them trying to get the ball.

“If you get that wrong England probably score a try there.

“It was a massive call for them to be able to do it… she’ll go down in history, Ngan-Woo, with the likes of Stephen Donald that played to win a World Cup.

“Great to see they got the execution right in the most pressure situation in the final.”

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Red Roses hooker Amy Cokayne scored a hat-trick in a losing final, as she reaped the rewards of her sides powerful and seemingly unstoppable maul.

While Cokayne wasn’t on the field for that final play, having been replaced by Lark Davies, many would’ve tipped England to snatch the final late.

But as former Blues hooker James Parsons described, “there was just no way that she (Ngan-Woo) wasn’t getting the ball.”

“They actually didn’t get into too bad of a position in the maul tries that were scored against them, you’ve actually got to credit England with how patient they were,” Parsons said.

“I just think they thought five metres out, even if we stay down we haven’t stopped them all game, our one opportunity to win this and clinch this World Cup is to get up and steal it.

“It wasn’t even the cleanest of lifts but the determination to get that ball out of the hands of England was just so massive… there was just no way that she wasn’t getting the ball back for her team.

“Just seeing what happened out the back, they started celebrating before the ball was even kicked out.

“Yes, they would have done the prep, absolutely, but I feel like they would’ve said if we don’t steal this, the game will be lost.”

While the final was a ground-breaking occasion for women’s rugby, as it truly transcended what was once believed to be possible, the match wasn’t without controversy.

The Red Roses were leading 14-nil early, before winger Lydia Thompson was red carded after a head clash with Portia Woodman. England were down to 14-players for more than a hour, but still managed to come within mere metres of winning it all.

But as Parsons reflected, while the red card was a decisive moment, the Black Ferns still had to execute their game plan.

“If look at all the tries they were on the left winger where the right winger would have been,” he said.

“You look at the Springboks-French game, it’s one thing getting a red card but exploiting it is another.

“The skillset and the vision and the option taking and the relentless nature to keep going to that left edge, they knew that’s where they needed to go and they just executed it perfectly.

“It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes when you get a red card if galvanises a group and you can’t find it but they were just ruthless.”

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