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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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Black Ferns star 'thought it was over' as French flyhalf lined up last-minute penalty

By Finn Morton
Stacey Fluhler of New Zealand scores a try during Rugby World Cup 2021 Semifinal match between New Zealand and France at Eden Park on November 05, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Centre Stacey Fluhler thought the Black Ferns’ World Cup dream “was over” as French flyhalf Caroline Drouin lined up a last-minute penalty attempt in Sunday’s semi-final.

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Drouin had opened the scoring earlier in the match with a penalty in the seventh minute, before France raced out to a commanding 10-nil lead in just over 20 minutes.

But the home crowd favourites stayed in the fight, and eventually took the lead for the first time in the Test through a Theresa Fitzpatrick try in the 57th minute.

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While Drouin helped France make it a one-point game late in the contest, the World Cup dreams of two nations ultimately came down to one moment.

Unfortunately for Drouin and the French team, the star pivot pulled her shot wide left, and the Black Ferns’ desperation saw them hang on to a famous 25-24 win at Eden Park.

“I honestly thought it was over, I’ve got to be honest. I think (Caroline) Drouin is an amazing kicker and my heart breaks for her because she’s an awesome player,” Fluhler said after the semi-final.

“I’m pretty stoked that we managed to take the dub (win), and it took the whole 80 minutes.

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“Such a close game but hey, that’s what makes the game of rugby fun and that’s why people love to watch it.”

“We know what France can do. Last year showed they’re such a physical team, they’re well defended team, but we managed to exploit that.

“I’m just so proud that we managed to pull through. It took the whole 23 of us.

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“It takes everyone and we can be proud of those efforts.”

It took New Zealand just about 35 minutes to cross for their opening try of the Test, with Fluhler reaping the rewards of a brilliant cut-out pass from captain Ruahei Demant.

The Olympic gold medallist, and the 2017 Rugby World Cup winner, starred alongside fellow Sevens regulars Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui.

“It just makes it more fun. We know the connections we have with one another,” she said.

“That takes probably a little bit more pressure off us because we just run off each other and that’s fun.

“Playing with your best mates out on the field, whether that’s fifteens, whether that’s Sevens, I couldn’t dream of anything better than that.”

In the earlier semi-final, World No. 1 England survived a scare from Canada as they booked their spot in next weekend’s final at Eden Park.

The Red Roses ran out to an early 12-nil lead, before Canada struck back to even the scores after tries to Karen Paquin and Alysha Corrigan.

While Canada never managed to take the lead, England were put under some genuine pressure in the second half as Vickii Cornborough was sent to the sin bin.

But the 26-19 win sees extend England extend their winning streak to 30-Test matches, and sets up a blockbuster against the reigning World Cup champions.

“I can’t wait. We actually got to watch the first half. Canada did well against England, it was so tight at half-time,” Fluhler said.

“We’ve done a bit of learning so far and England are a tough, tough team. We know that. They’re on a 30-game win streak so we want to break that.

“They’re gonna come out all guns firing, it’s a final. But hopefully the home crowd advantage can bring us home.”

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