Thursday, 9 September 2010
Black Ferns win again
England 10 - New Zealand 13
I dragged my husband along to this test world cup final. He was reluctant. There was something about 'woman's rugby world cup final' that didn't hold the same sway as its male counterpart. I had an inkling he might be wrong and might be converted, and as usual, I was right.
Played at the Stoop at Twickenham, we caught a forty minute train out to England's fortress on a late Sunday evening with a raft of England and New Zealand supporters, proudly clad in their adidas and o2 jerseys. We marched past the Black Ferns and the very confident English team as we arrived at the grounds and the girls were finishing their warm up drills on a secondary field outside the grounds.
I was quietly confident as a Black Fern supporter. The New Zealanders had clearly swept their opponents apart in the round robins. England too, yet they had been altogether more low scoring (although maybe this says something for their defence...more of that later).
The ground was electric with English supporters and their rallying cries of 'Eng-er-land' and tuneful chants of 'swing low, sweet chariot' resonated throughout. It was enough to make the hairs stand on the back of my neck, and I had no choice but to join in, because I love singing (and sadly, the New Zealand contingent had no replying cry) so if you can't beat 'em, you have to join 'em in this day and age.
However, in the first half, it was evident that New Zealand had the upper hand. I know this, because I was sitting on the south side which should have been New Zealand's own half. The game was played completely in England's 22 in the first forty. (Bad for someone with myopic eye sight like myself. I couldn't see a thing sitting at the other end of the field). Sure, we had two people sent off. The legend Anna Richards (god knows what for, but that's Aussie spec saver needing refs for you) and then, New Zealand's prop Mel Bosman was doing the 'march of shame' shortly after.
The writing should have been on the wall, but the Ferns had the dominance and they didn't relinquish. I have been told by rugger heads in the past that when a team is diminished by a player, there's no time to let the head bow. Only get angry. And that's precisely what the Fern's did with 13 against 15. Before half time, one of the New Zealand wingers (I don't know which one. In all honesty, I wasn't hugely impressed by either NZ wingers although granted, they played their part) scored a try. The roof above me raised. It silenced the rest of the crowd and there was many a disgruntled English rugby supporter turning their heads at me in annoyance (I was loud and quite obnoxious as I had to try and match their tuneful sweet chariot with a certain patriotism of my own).
The second half had a wonderful introduction with a streaker managing to get on the pitch, fist pumping in triumph as he then did a roly poly right on the halfway mark. The security guards were laughing too (something about women's rugby takes the testosterone out of security) and they cleared a path for him to get back to the stands. Chances are, he was a kiwi.
England came back and scored on a great rolling 'stick it up the jumper' maul of their own (again, I have no idea who did what, you may have to read a match report somewhere else to know the gory details), and this tied the game up, making it a true nail biter in the final stages.
What really impressed me in this match was the ball handling of both sides. They were both exceptional. The Ferns had more possession, so quite naturally, I was more impressed by their skills (it could help also that I am of couse the most one eyed of New Zealand rugby supporters).
But England were also, fantastic. Defensively, they were exceptional. The crunching tackles they made were as thrilling as any male counterpart in the test arena. But when they ran the ball, they also threatened. Because of this, it was a truly bewitching match to watch. The ball skills of both teams and the agressive defence had everyone cheering.
In the end, Zealand scored a penalty that gave them the three point cushion. Because England had trouble playing in the NZ 22, and because in the final minutes, NZ were back to full strength, it was hard to believe that England could have snatched it. And this prophecy came to pass. Although, as a loud mouthed NZ supporter sitting in a stand of the most hardened England supporters, I will admit to you I was still nervous.
Speaking of this - sitting in a crowd full of English supporters of a world cup final where your team has won and their team has lost is a rare experience. I actually found myself truly feeling for England (don't get me wrong, I absolutely ADORE England, BUT when it comes to rugby, the love leaves the room for reasons that I feel I don't have to explain to you). So having sympathy for everyone in an English rugby crowd was a completely different feeling. As Fitzy would say 'credit to the English team'. I could recognise they were quite magnificent. But they just couldn't quite do it again at a world cup stage. For this, I can truly sympathise.
As the Black Ferns did a victory lap around the field I was up at the boundary getting some photos, standing next to some young (english boys) clad out in the red rose rugby shirt. They spontaneously burst out into the Ka Mate haka, and I couldn't help thinking how rather wonderful rugby is when a bunch of white school boys from Surrey know the haka word for word and can pronouce it and perform it even better that me.
A fantastic rugby match. If you've never watched an international women's test before, I urge you to give it a go before you die. You will never be disappointed. As we walked away from the grounds, my husband had a wry smile on his face. 'That was an ok match,' he said, in typical understated New Zealand style. I couldn't have said it better myself.