On Sunday 7th November I went to the Cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens and saw a dominant England performance, their opponents – New Zealand. This was a women’s international match and it was briliant! A crowd of 9366 made their way to Northampton. I’ve been to the ground many times to watch Premiership Rugby and have always approached from the town. This time, travelling with my friend Sheila, we parked in one of the official car parks to the back of the ground, giving me the chance to see the facilities available to the club. I was impressed I have to say, plenty of parking, although I do wonder if they underestimated the number of cars that’d be turning up!
To put this game into perspective, a quick look at the history of the Women’s World Cup – the tournament has been played 8 times, New Zealand have won 4 times and England twice. Before this match the two teams had played each other 28 times, with 18 wins for New Zealand, a Draw and 9 wins for England. A 64% win ratio for the Black Ferns. The two teams had played each other in Exeter with England winning with an impressive 43 – 12 scoreline.
Saracens Poppy Cleall was appointed captain for this match and she oversaw a dominant performance. Harlequins hooker Amy Cokayne started as she meant to carry on, touching down for England’s first try after a driving maul from the line-out, with ground made after a penalty. Zoe Harrison, who gave as good a kicking display from the tee as I’ve seen on a rugby pitch, added the extras.
The Black Ferns did their cause no favours by not kicking the 10m from the restart, that gave England a scrum on halfway. Another penalty conceded and another England line-out close to the New Zealand line, this time the ball was spread by the backs, with Hollie Aitchison throwing the ball out to Ellie Kildunne who touched down, a great kick from Harrison and England were ahead by 14 with 30 minutes on the clock.
England looked close to their third try 5 minutes later after yet another penalty and another line out in the New Zealand 22, but the ball went flying wide at the last moment. When the referee checked that happened because Kendra Cocksedge had got a hand to the ball, the result of that was a penalty try and a yellow card for a ‘deliberate knock on’.
Interestingly England didn’t improve their score while NZ were down to 14; but they did score their fourth try just before half time, in much the same way as the first, a second try for Cokayne, a fourth conversion for Harrison and England went in at half time with 28 points on the board.
Happily my ref link was working for this match, so I’d heard the referee, Aurelie Groizeleau put New Zealand on a warning, and Poppy Cleall reminded her of that when they’d given away another two within 4 minutes of the second half. Added in that amounted to 13 penalties. Number 13 proved to be unlucky for the Black Ferns, as Cokayne dived over for her hat-trick try. Another perfect kick and England were on 35.
At last New Zealand had some attacking time close to the England line, a couple of English penalties saw them put on a warning, a scrum taken on the second saw the ball reach the Portia Woodman, (a player with a great record behind her, including being named the Women’s Sevens Player of the Year in 2015, being top try scorer in the Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Olympics and also being top scorer in the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup). The ball was spun out to her wing and at last the Black Ferns fans has something to cheer about. Cocksedge failed to convert the try.
A mistake from the New Zealand Hooker at a line out in their own half saw the ball thrown long and Leanne Infante snaffled the ball to score, there was no stopping her once the ball was in her hands! Harrison (of course) added the extras. This England team seemed to have perfected the drive from a line out and lo, replacement Hooker Lark Davies was next to get her name on the scoresheet. Duly converted and England had 49 on the board.
Sarah Mckenna, not long on the pitch saw yellow after her own deliberate knock on;Stacey Fluhler benefited from the extra space and scored a great try on the left wing, another try unconverted, but the Black Ferns were at least getting points on the board. Lagi Tuima, also on a substitute was lucky not to receive a yellow card for a trip a couple of minutes later. New Zealand opted for a scrum from that penalty which came to nothing but an interception for Abigail Dow, who sailed down the pitch to take England past the 50. Zoe Harrison kicked her 8th from 8 conversion to take England to 56.
The Black Ferns had the final word with their third try, a second for Woodman as the ball went out to her after a scrum. The try wasn’t converted leaving the final score as England 56 Black Ferns 15.
This was a superb performance from the Black Ferns, the game was on the BBC, but the coverage post match has been scant, this sort of international performance really deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. I paid £20 for my ticket and am very glad I made the journey to Northampton.