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'There's been a growing wave for women's sport in New Zealand… you can't ignore it.'

By Finn Morton
Kendra Cocksedge of New Zealand celebrates after winning Rugby World Cup 2021 Semifinal match between New Zealand and France at Eden Park on November 05, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Last year’s women’s Rugby World Cup was a ground-breaking tournament for the champion Black Ferns, as they captured the “hearts” of a rugby-mad nation in a way “they didn’t before.”

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The Black Ferns dared to dream throughout their pursuit of rugby immortality, while many rugby fans around the world cast them aside as nothing more than a pretender for the sports ultimate prize.

Less than a year out from the World Cup on New Zealand soil, the Black Ferns made their return to international rugby with a disastrous end-of-season tour to England and France.

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After losing two test matches against both teams – and by emphatic margins as well – the Black Ferns’ dream had seemingly taken a hit before it’d even begun.

But under the tutelage of super coach Wayne Smith, who was later named World Rugby’s Coach of the Year, the Black Ferns etched their names into New Zealand sporting folklore.

After getting off to a slow start against rivals Australia at Eden Park to begin their tournament, the Black Ferns were a class above in their other matches as they charged into the semi-finals.

But then, a chance to rewrite history awaited the Black Ferns.

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And that’s exactly what they did.

It came down to the wire, with French flyhalf Caroline Drouin missing a late penalty that would’ve won the match, but the Black Ferns beat France in the semi-finals.

Their shocking tour to the Northern Hemisphere had not been forgotten, but those two losses to France had been forgiven.

Then, a chance at glory against World No. 1 England, as they returned to the famous Auckland venue a week later for the final.

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The Red Roses, who were on a 30-test unbeaten streak, began the test with a 14-point blitz before winger Lydia Thompson was red carded.

New Zealand fought valiantly throughout the decider, and held on for a thrilling three-point win.

Reflecting on last year’s momentums tournament, columnist Alice Soper spoke about the “legacy” of the team and how it will be felt “for years to come.”

“There’s been a growing wave for women’s sport in New Zealand that’s been coming for a while, and what this was, was kind of the moment where it broke over and just crashed down on everyone,” Soper told World Rugby.

“You can’t ignore it anymore.

“This win has positioned our team in a different place, not just in consciousness, but in hearts.

“People love our team now in a way that they didn’t before. So, we’re not going to let something we love be mistreated or not be invested in or supported like we had previously.

“So, I think it’s raised it to a level, like our Black Ferns Sevens team has been for a while, where people love this team, they want to back them, and they want to see them level up.

“I think it’s the accountability that’s come from the visibility, that will be the legacy for years to come.”

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