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'Women's rugby has changed forever, not only in New Zealand but around the world'

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

Black Ferns international Chelsea Semple believes “women’s rugby has changed forever” after last weekend’s sold-out World Cup final between New Zealand and England at Eden Park.


More than 42,000 rugby fans packed the stands at New Zealand’s home of rugby, and watched on as the host nation recorded an incredible 34-31 upset win over the Red Roses.

England, who were on a 30-Test winning streak going into the final, were widely considered to be the favourites for Saturday’s decider – and they lived up that moniker early on.

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Tries to Ellie Kildunne and Amy Cokayne saw the Red Roses race out to a commanding 14-nil lead inside the first quarter of the Test, but the Black Ferns wouldn’t be kept scoreless for long.

After a red card to England winger Lydia Thompson, the women in black scored their first try through Georgia Ponsonby in the 18th-minute.

While they were down to 14-players, England fought valiantly and managed to hold onto their lead until about the 50th minute, before regaining control on the scoreboard shortly after.

But this was New Zealand’s day, and the Black Ferns held on for a famous win after taking the lead back inside the last 10-minutes.


Speaking on The Breakdown, 28-Test international Semple described the final as “one of the best games I’ve ever seen.”

“Firstly, just what an absolutely outstanding occasion. To see that, Eden Park packed out, the vibe down there. This was all for women’s rugby and it was world-wide,” Semple said.

“After that occasion, women’s rugby has changed forever, not only in New Zealand but around the world. It has changed forever. It just gives me so much pride and so much excitement.

“The game itself, what a display of rugby, one of the best games I’ve ever seen and that’s across the men and women’s game.


“It was tight, it was exciting, the skill level, the speed of the game, the amount of minutes the ball was actually in play, it was outstanding to watch.

“That last five minutes, I don’t think I watched all of it, I was kind of hiding myself away because I was just so emotional, my heart was beating so fast.

“England’s strength, everyone knows, is their lineout and their maul and they get one five metres out from the try-line… everyone would put money on them scoring.

“Jonah Ngan Woo getting up and contesting that, I get goosebumps thinking about that moment. That’s going to go down in history, I’m going to replay that in my head, I’m going to rewatch that all the time, I’m going to show my kids that game one day.

“The whole country should just be so proud.”

The Black Ferns’ incredible World Cup run was inspirational for so many reasons, as these women dared to dream of World Cup glory while challenging what was believed to be possible for the sport.

After opening their World Cup campaign at Eden Park against Australia, New Zealand would go on to play at Auckland’s beloved rugby venue another two times.

In the process the Black Ferns won praise and admiration for their determination and passion on the field, and appreciation and respect for their supporters off it.

From Stacey Fluhler smiling during the anthems, to Ruby Tui gifting her World Cup winners medal to an aspiring Black Fern, this team has truly united the nation and become role models to all.

Sky Sports commentator Fauono Ken Laban spoke about the significance of this World Cup for women’s rugby, saying the Black Ferns had become “a beacon of hope.”

“It was a very nice package that we showed at the front end of the program, and especially those unsolicited comments from the kids (saying) they want to play women’s rugby,” Laban said on The Breakdown.

“I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said by everybody else in relation to the Black Ferns and the grandness of the occasion on the weekend, but they are a beacon of hope for the future of rugby.

“You put the six weeks in the context of the venues, the crowds, the global audiences and the quality of the footy that was served up… it’s captivated the world.

“Don’t forget there’s been three or four sell-out crowds ahead of the final on the weekend. I think that World Rugby, the women’s players, all of those involved in the organisation behind the scenes that created the matchday experiences can feel immensely proud.

“We’re all very happy New Zealand got the job done on the weekend, but even if they hadn’t got the job done, we wouldn’t have changed our view about what an experience it has been, and what a wonderful period it has been for the growth of the women’s game.”

But there are still some questions that remain about the Black Ferns’ schedule for next year, although we do know that they’ll be involved in the Pacific Four Series against the United States, Canada and Australia.

Speaking about what’s next for the team and women’s rugby in Aotearoa, Semple listed a few things that need to happen for New Zealand Rugby to adequately invest into the sport.

“I think one of the first things to me is to get a really meaningful international Test calendar, and get that out early, get it put in writing early so the Black Ferns have something to work towards,” Semple said.

“As we saw, we can’t come off the back of not playing against the Northern Hemisphere teams and then try and play them after a while of being on our own down in the Southern Hemisphere… we have to have those games.

“The next thing I’d like to see is a much bigger, more meaningful and expanded Super Rugby Aupiki tournament. It’s an outstanding start of the tournament of a competition and what we saw last year was some great rugby being played and people loved watching it.

“Then the last thing of course is we have full-time contracted players and it’s an amazing step forward for women’s rugby and we’ve seen the difference that’s made to our top professional players.

“But we need more. We can’t just have 30, 35 of the top contracted women in the country and then start to leave the rest of the country behind. We actually need a wider range of girls being contracted.”


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