AUCKLAND (AP): Wingers Abby Dow and Claudia MacDonald combined for a length-of-the-field try that sent top-ranked England into the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup with a 26-19 win over Canada on Saturday which stretched its world-record winning streak to 30 tests.
England will face defending champion New Zealand, which rallied from 17-10 down at halftime to beat France 25-24, also at Auckland’s Eden Park. Caroline Drouin had a chance to send France to its first World Cup final with a penalty in the final minute but hurried the kick and dragged it wide from 30 meters.
Earlier, England faced one of the stiffest challenges to its historic winning streak when it led 18-12 after 50 minutes with Canada battering at its goal line. Several Canada players went close to scoring before England finally forced the turnover that set the try of the tournament in motion.
MacDonald first broke out from behind the England goal line and made lengthy progress downfield. When she met resistance on the left-hand side she swept the ball cross-field to Dow on the right who carried the ball from near halfway to the goal line where, after fending the last defender, she touched down for the match-winning try.
Canada came back strongly into the match with tries to backrower Karen Paquin and center Alysha Corrigan which brought the teams level after 35 minutes.
England needed a penalty to Emily Scarratt to earn a 15-12 lead at halftime and led 18-12 soon afterwards with another Scarratt goal.
Then came an England try which may match the fabled “try from the ends of the earth” which France scored against the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1994. An England team famous for the quality of its forward play unleashed its backline in the most unexpected of circumstances and the try that resulted decided the match.
“We’ve come into get into that game next week and Canada really pressed us,” England captain Sarah Hunter said. “For rugby fans out there, hopefully that was a great showcase of what women’s rugby is all about.”
England seemed to be adhering to its well-worn game plan in the first half in which its forwards gave it 57% of territory and 53% of possession.
Canada pressed the England line for long periods at times and was reward with a try to the center Corrigan in the 35th minute. When the forwards couldn’t find a way through near the line, a long pass found Corrigan in space.
England could rely on the boot of Scarratt at key moments with her penalties either side of halftime.
When England was again under pressure after a try to replacement Tyson Beukeboom in the 68th minute which brought Canada back into the match at 23-19, Scarratt again goaled to make England’s margin secure.
Canada had to resort to a GoFundMe page to support its World Cup campaign.
“Just think what we could do with more games and more resources,” captain Sophie de Goede said. “I’m really proud to be Canadian and I think there’s a bright future ahead for us.”
New Zealand produced an outstanding second-half performance to turn around France’s halftime lead and grab its place in the final. Fans had predicted a final match-up between the world No. 1 and the defending champions but New Zealand needed an extraordinary performance to make that happen.
France was the better team in the first half, composed and controlled. They led early with a try to Romane Menager and, after New Zealand had leveled through Stacey Fluhler, took the lead again with Gabrielle Vernier’s try on halftime.
New Zealand dominated possession in the second half and, aided by a heavy penalty count in its favor, went ahead with tries to Ruby Tui and Theresa Fitzpatrick.
France cut the margin to one point with Menager’s second try, giving Drouin the chance to win the match in the 79th minute.
“The difference in the game wasn’t that kick,” Vernier said. “We should have been better all game, we should have been better in defense. Best wishes for New Zealand against England.”
The final is set for next Saturday, also at Eden Park.