England and New Zealand have booked their places in the women’s Rugby World Cup final, with both celebrating nailbiting semi-final wins at Auckland’s Eden Park.
Abby Dow’s breathtaking length-of-the-field breakaway try 10 minutes into the second half was decisive for England as they beat Canada 26-19 in Saturday’s opening last-four clash.
In the day’s second match, France five-eighth Caroline Drouin missed a last-gasp penalty as New Zealand claimed a 25-24 thriller in what the Kiwis coach Wayne Smith described as an “unbelievable ending”.
With a shot awarded in front after Santo Taumata was yellow-carded for a high tackle, Drouin shanked her kick left as New Zealand made a great escape in front of a roaring crowd.
“I’m proud. I don’t think people realise how much difference (the support) makes to us on the field,” New Zealand’s co-captain Ruahei Demant said.
“Our families and our country are supporting. People are coming out to support women and women’s rugby like never before.”
Down 17-10 at halftime, the Black Ferns charged into the lead through tries to Ruby Tui and Theresa Fitzpatrick.
France No.8 Romane Menager scored two tries, her second pulling the French within a point with 14 minutes left.
But a yellow card for forward Safi N’Diaye for a high tackle proved costly for France before Drouin’s late miss sealed their fate.
Earlier, less than seven months after breaking her right leg playing for England against Wales, Dow capped a move that started behind her own try line to break Canada’s resistance and send the tournament favourites to a record-extending 30th consecutive win.
With England 18-12 to the good, the Canadians had been camped on their opponent’s line, with several players going close to nabbing a crucial score.
England eventually forced a turnover and set in motion a flowing move that ended with Dow racing from near halfway to touch down a memorable matchwinner.
“It was incredible,” England captain Sarah Hunter said.
“Canada really tested us, for rugby fans I hope that was an advertisement for what women’s rugby is all about.
“Canada were relentless and the girls put their bodies on the line.”
England, who last won the title in 2014 when they defeated the Canadians in France, will be appearing in the final for the sixth tournament in a row and eighth time in total.
“I am proud of the girls,” Canada head coach Kevin Rouet said of his side, who now look forward to the third-place play-off.
“It’s about details and England were better than us on details.
“There are more than a few missed opportunities for us. We’ll be back.”
Hosts New Zealand will play England in the final at Eden Park on Saturday 12 November at 5.30pm AEDT.