Saturday's 34-31 win over England in the women's Rugby World Cup final was a magnificent triumph for New Zealand's Black Ferns. Given the record-breaking crowd of 42,579—the largest ever for a women's fixture—it was also a win for the sport.
It was, however, a heart-breaking loss for the Red Roses—their second consecutive defeat by the Ferns in a World Cup final, and their first defeat in 31 Tests.
At first the game looked to turn out very differently. England stormed to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, with tries from Ellie Kildunne and Amy Cokayne. But in the 17th minute England's Lydia Thompson was shown a red card after a nasty head collision with New Zealand's Portia Woodman— disappointing for England but hardly controversial; Woodman failed her head injury assessment and later confessed on Instagram that she didn't remember the game ("although... I know I have a gold medal because we won", she captioned a selfie of her grinning and holding up the gold).
Georgia Ponsoby secured the following penalty for New Zealand.
Three more tries were scored before half-time: by Ayesha Leti-I'iga and Amy Rule for New Zealand, and a second by Cokayne for England. The score was the 26-19 to England.
After half-time a score from Krystal Murray and a try from Stacey Fluhler put New Zealand in the lead for the first time— quickly answered by another from Cokayne, completing her hat-trick. But the lead went back to New Zealand after Leti-I'iga scored the Ferns' sixth try of the night after an offload from Stacey Fluhler.
It all came down to the final seconds, when England's lineout—so unstoppable all season—failed to come through when it counted, just 5 meters away from the New Zealand tryline. New Zealand's victory was secure.
Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant was justly elated:
"I can't even put it into words. All I can say is thank you and I am so proud of our team. It has been so overwhelming, we aren't used to so many fans. We hope we have made our country proud. We hope we have inspired the next generation."
New Zealand's victory also marked the first time a host nation has won the cup.
Meanwhile, English captain Sarah Hunter made it plain that though the loss was devastating, she was still proud of her team:
"I'm gutted. I'm so proud of the team, we came out fighting. We had our backs against the wall for 60 minutes but we never gave up... Hopefully we have inspired the next generation back home and given themselves something to be proud of...Sport is cruel. Credit to New Zealand, they found a way and they go home as deserved champions. We left no stone unturned, we left everything on the pitch. We are hurting."