Written by Max Sharp.
Well, it happened. Just one year after Glenn Moore's final four tests as Black Ferns coach all ended in big losing margins, Wayne Smith, at the helm of an entirely new coaching group, has now taken his side into their rightful place as World Cup winners, ending his brief tenure with a 100% success rate. Though many believed England to be the favourites, the Black Ferns' massive improvements would always see them challenge the "underdog" typecast.
Though they were down 19-26 at half-time, the Black Ferns' tenacious mental toughness saw many lead changes in the second half, as they won at the death by 34-31, thanks to some classic lineout defence. This team deserves every word of praise possible, every single one of them had a good game, so let's read through from jersey number 1 through to 23, to highlight the best features of each player's performance in the "2021" World Cup Final.
The Black Ferns perform their haka ahead of the 2021 Rugby World Cup Final against England, at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.
Black Ferns Player Ratings
Loosehead Prop - Pip Love (7/10)
World Cups are won on experience and the selection of Love was of utmost importance. The team won 100% of scrums off their own feed and Love can definitely take credit for that; she can definitely do so for holding back England’s ruck speed too. If she opts to retire at 32 years old, then this would have been an amazing send-off. Accumulated 5 tackles too.
Hooker - Georgia Ponsonby (7/10)
Copped some criticism for her lineout throwing earlier in the tournament, but nailed it this time. Has come along way under Wayne Smith’s tutelage and at just 22, Ponsonby will be around for many years to come. Gave away a few penalties but demonstrated strong work ethic at the breakdown and made 5 tackles.
Tighthead Prop - Amy Rule (8/10)
Another player who can get thanks for the 100% scrum ratio, with a fine performance with ball-in-hand to go with it. Rule managed to score off a driving maul shortly before half-time, totalling 20 metres and 1 defender beaten off 7 carries. Scary thing is that like Ponsonby, Rule isn’t the finished product either.
Lock 4 - Maiakawanakaulani Roos (8/10)
The home town girl charged at the England pack to make 57 metres and beat 1 defender off 7 carries, with her legs moving like pistons. Roos was certainly an athletic lineout option too, providing some strong front-foot ball for the team, before being replaced in the 63rd minute.
Maiakawanakaulani Roos (right) makes a strong carry in the first half. Photo: Max Sharp.
Lock 5 - Chelsea Bremner (8/10)
Used her frame to draw in plenty of England defenders during a total of 9 carries, the majority of her metres were definitely post-contact. Bremner was a defensive workhorse too, with her 7 tackles the team’s second-most. Phenomenal.
Blindside Flanker - Alana Bremner (8/10)
With the Black Ferns appearing to use a 1-1-3-3 pod structure, Bremner thrived with ball-in-hand in the wide channels; totalling 35 metres and 4 defenders beaten off 6 carries. Possession rates reduced her tackle count to 4/5 but all four were huge hits. Hopefully up for Player of the Year nominations!
Openside Flanker - Sarah Hirini (9/10)
Having not played much at 15’s since the 2017 Rugby World Cup, Hirini was still up and ready for the final, having won endless trophies at 7s. Topped the tackle count with 10/11, won a turnover and made a surprisingly high amount of passes, 11 to be exact. Plenty of running was also achieved, Hirini featured heavily in the wide channels.
Sarah Hirini (right) and Ruby Tui (left) mark their set-piece positions prior to kickoff. Photo: Max Sharp.
Number 8 - Charmaine McMenamin (6/10)
The only change from the semi-final against France, as Liana Mikaele-Tu’u was ruled out due to injury. McMenamin’s experience was evident as she ran for 18 metres off 5 carries in the tight channels, while adding 6 to the team’s tackle count. Did a solid job.
Halfback - Kendra Cocksedge (9/10)
Cocksedge played her final game of rugby, having announced her retirement ahead of the tournament and had a few highlights to note. The first was a brilliant 50-22 kick ahead of Rule’s try, the second was outstanding game management and the third; playing the full 80 minutes. A deserved way to go out for a legend of the game.
First-Five - Ruahei Demant (10/10)
Deservedly won Player of the Match off 30 metres and 2 defenders beaten by 10 carries; while showing her class as a hands-on decision-maker with 29 passes and 6 offloads; half the team’s tally. What Demant did there was a masterclass, but to put icing on the cake, 6 tackles and a try-saving turnover were there too. An inspirational captain.
Left Wing - Portia Woodman (8/10)
Although England lost Lydia Thompson to a red card, Woodman’s substitution due to injury after this clash perhaps negated England’s card. Wonder Woodman, the tournament’s top try-scorer, had already ran 71 metres, beaten 6 defenders and managed 2 clean breaks off just 3 carries, so an effort like that definitely deserves a high rating.
Second-Five - Theresa Fitzpatrick (7/10)
Her combination understandings with Demant (a Blues teammate) and Fluhler (a 7s teammate) were incredibly clear. 44 metres from 8 carries weren’t as high metre totals as the other backs, but her kicking game and distribution worth 11 passes added plenty of flair to the attack. Fitzpatrick is a true second-five and I’d love to see her play more at 15s.
Centre - Stacey Fluhler (9/10)
Notched up her second World Cup win and despite breaking herself for the cause while doing so, Fluhler’s single offload of the match allowed for the winning try. Scored a try for herself, while demonstrating incredible attacking class out of 65 metres, 4 defenders beaten and 2 clean breaks. One of the great midfield performances; could have been a 10/10 if not for a clear knock-on.
Stacey Fluhler (centre) strides down into England's half in the 41st minute. Photo: Max Sharp.
Right Wing - Ruby Tui (7/10)
Are the statisticians sure they counted Tui’s running metres correctly? Tui went on a few surging runs and definitely did her part in convincing the crowd they’d got a very worthy experience watching the final. Made 7 passes as well, a rather high number for a winger, having linked up with her 7s sisters many a time. Certain to win World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.
Fullback - Renee Holmes (9/10)
Congratulated the fullback at the end of the game, as she couldn’t believe how well the evening had gone. Aside from Holmes’ goal-kicking percentage, everything in her effort against England was perfect. Proved her worth under the high ball, showed mature decision-making with 13 passes and ran a match-high 114 metres. What’s even better is that we are yet to see the best of the 22-year-old Holmes.
The Eden Park crowd roar to life as Renee Holmes crosses the tryline. Photo: Max Sharp.
Reserve Hooker - Luka Connor (7/10)
Appeared to have a leg injury late in the match but played on, showing formidable resilience. Connor did a great job at carrying on Ponsonby’s lineout efforts, while using her power to gain 16 metres off 5 carries, also making 5 tackles and a late turnover.
Luka Connor (16) makes a powerful tackle with just minutes to go. Photo: Max Sharp.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Krystal Murray (8/10)
Let’s get this straight, Murray is a phenomenal athlete. The Northland goal-kicker came on to scrummage with a spine of steel, while definitely making her presence clear in the rucks. Managed to score a close-range try shortly after coming on, while gaining 24 metres off 7 carries.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Santo Taumata (No rating)
Though Taumata came on later than the other reserve front-rowers, it was excellent to see faith shown in the 19-year-old; though coming on in the 62nd minute does mean she didn’t play enough to get a rating. It’ll be exciting to see how Taumata develops in the years to come!
Reserve Lock - Joanah Ngan-Woo (6/10)
Definitely managed to make more impact than Taumata; a classic example of different positions’ effects on the game. Coming on in the 63rd minute confined Ngan-Woo to just 3 tackles, though she was able to make mince meat of the England defence with 18 metres off 3 carries. Showed some guts to contest the lineouts as well, a class impact player.
Reserve Loose Forward - Kennedy Simon (6/10)
Though the co-captain's lack of match fitness due to a previous injury saw her used in a utility role off the bench, her leadership truly showed in the dying moments, as 1 turnover featured on her stat sheet. Simon's yellow card was not too costly so it doesn't affect the rating.
Reserve Halfback - Ariana Bayler (No rating)
Bayler unfortunately did not play, so won't be rated, but it was heartwarming to see her excitement at being a World Cup Champion after the match; not coming on would not have upset her at all as the team won the trophy.
Reserve First-Five - Hazel Tubic (No rating)
Played the last 9 minutes due to Fluhler's leg injury; with a wee backline reshuffle taking place. While Tubic didn't play enough to get a rating, she'll be as stoked as every other player to win the World Cup.
Reserve Outside Back - Ayesha Leti-I'iga (8/10)
Hurricanes fans may have been dismayed with Leti-I'iga named on the bench, but we saw much more of her than anticipated. While her 51 metres weren't the highest tally, 2 tries and 3 defenders beaten off 6 carries certainly wasn't bad at all. An amazing future lies ahead.
Ayesha Leti-I'iga (23) fends off England's Sarah Bern during a carry. Photo: Max Sharp.