AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- It was the final World Cup 2021 deserved, with the Black Ferns and the Red Roses playing out an epic 11-try battle in front of a boisterous sold-out crowd at Eden Park, New Zealand doing what seemed impossible defeating England and claiming an incredible World Cup.
The match had everything; a red card, a yellow card, the much-criticised rolling maul, epic, darting runs from the Black Ferns, flashy backline moves from the Red Roses and plenty of boos and cheers from the record 42,579 fans that had packed into the stadium eager for the action.
It came right down to the final seconds, England posted five metres from the Black Ferns line, setting up for yet another rolling maul to win the match. The hooter blaring in the background, Red Roses hooker Lark Davies threw the ball with both the Red Roses and Black Ferns contesting, but it would be New Zealand's Joanah Ngan-Woo who would come down with the ball and with it the game, and the World Cup title for a sixth time.
"It was crazy," Ngan-Woo recalled of the match-winning moment. "I guess that's the kind of stuff that you do at training and we just had to do that again, it just happened to be in a World Cup final. It's just the bread-and-butter stuff that matter.
"We were like 'have the courage', we talked about having the courage, so that's what we did.
"I still can't believe it that we just won a World Cup, it just felt all the team come in and it's just a crazy moment that you never get. There was definitely no fear from me, we've been doing our analysis all week especially on their lineouts, especially around Abby their main jumper, and watching from the bench I got to see it before so I knew what was coming."
It couldn't have been a better advert for the women's game. Eleven tries, some from rolling mauls, many from broken play, with some of the most incredible rugby played out in a high-tempo, frenetic pace that had fans on their feet repeatedly.
Discussed constantly throughout the week, England's rolling maul took only minutes to make its first appearance and eventuated in a try in the 13th minute -- their first coming off a well worked backline off the back of a lineout. It would feature several more times and result in three more tries, including a hat-trick to England's Amy Cockayne, the second player to ever score a hat-trick in a men's or women's World Cup final.
But it would be the Black Ferns' determination to play the game with style and flair that would see them end England's incredible 30-game winning streak and be victorious in a home World Cup.
Down 12-0 after only 15 minutes and watching their biggest attacking threat Portia Woodman get carted off the field following a head clash, the impossible task appeared even further away. Struggling to make ground with ball in hand, the Black Ferns were constantly peppered by a fast-moving white wall that gave them little time or space with the ball.
Despite struggling to make their way into the match early, Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant said there was a sense of calmness around the team and they never felt the scoreboard pressure.
"For most of the game I never felt like we were under the pump or we were going to lose," Demant said after the win. "I don't say that based on the opposition, I say it based on the calmness that our 15 players out there on the field showed.
"We knew where the space was, we just had to get the ball there and we knew that their lineout drive was killing us, so we tried to keep the ball in and not concede any penalties. It took 80 minutes and it took 23 players, it didn't matter if we had a yellow card, I guess to sum up the game I'm just really proud of all 32 of us really."
A red card to England's wing Lydia Thompson for the head knock on Woodman would open the door slightly for the Black Ferns though with New Zealand using the Red Roses' rolling maul game plan against them to open their account.
"I've said it before like sport can be cruel," England captain Sarah Hunter said. "But the one thing we said before we came out here or even before the final is that whatever we do, we can be proud of the team and the players and the squad that we've become.
"We're as one, we're a collective and we win together and we lose together and there's no blame culture in this team and there certainly won't be in this final either, because we're a united group and we're all accountable together as one for whether we win or whether we lose."
Both teams would trade tries for the remainder of the half, England hitting back only moments later after a Maia Roos mistake at the kick-off, before the Black Ferns would capitalize on an England restart mistake with Ayesha Leti-I'iga collecting the spoils of a one-player overlap to crash over the line.
Just 25-minutes into the match five tries had already been scored with England holding a 19-14 lead. Three more would be scored before the sides would head to the sheds for a much-needed halftime break, with the mainly New Zealand fans clapping their team from the field.
Labelling his team's frantic off-loading game as part of their 'DNA', the Black Ferns refused to go away from what had served them best throughout the tournament, even if it did result in turnover ball in precarious areas of the park. In the end it would get them into the match and eventually ahead on the scoreboard with the likes of Ruby Tui, Stacey Fluhler and Theresa Fitzpatrick menacing the Red Roses defence.
"We knew from six months ago that if we were going to play them then we were going to have to develop our unstructured game, we were going to have to play something different and take some risks," Black Ferns coach Wayne Smith said following the match. "Luckily, we have a captain that drove that and had the whole team behind her. I don't think this team will ever go back to not doing that."
The Ferns try to open the second half was a demonstration of just how lethal the side could be with ball and just the slightest bit of space with Fluhler making the initial break down the left side after her team secured the kickoff. She'd find fullback Renee Holmes for the offload and then make herself available again for the final pass and score in the corner.
The moment lit up the crowd and a 50/22 kick from Holmes minutes later would put the Black Ferns in scoring position again with reserve Krystal Murray dotting down and giving New Zealand the lead for the first time of the match.
England would quickly hit back with a third Cockayne try, but despite the lead it felt as though the tied had turned, the pressure was now on the Red Roses to maintain the lead and play out the match. It wouldn't be enough.
A couple of sacked lineout mauls, and two missed clearance kicks from Zoe Harrison later and the Black Ferns were back in the lead with another outstanding try through Fluhler scored by Leti-I'iga following an incredible offload from Fluhler just metres from the line.
"I don't think it was a winning try, but it was definitely a team try," Leti-I'iga described her match-winning try. "Everyone else did the hard yards in the beginning and I got the easy stuff in the end."
With 10 minutes left on the clock and holding just a three-point lead, the Black Ferns continued to throw the ball around, even taking a quick tap deep in their own half. It would cost them a turnover just moments later and would end with them pinned on their line with England a possibility of stealing the win. But keeping to their fearless spirit, the call to compete at the final lineout went down and the risk paid off in spades.
"We took a risk that last lineout, so the message went down 'get someone up' and that someone was Jo Ngan-Woo who's a phenomenal athlete, good under pressure and she did the business," Smith said.
"I love them, I'm proud of them, I've never been more proud of the team. Win or lose, end of the day I didn't really care win or lose, it's better to win than lose, but we just wanted to go out there and play and be true to our DNA and that's what we did."