The agony of a World Cup final defeat was there for all to see after England’s deja vu loss to New Zealand… for Simon Middleton and senior players like Sarah Hunter such opportunities might not come round again
- England were defeated 34-31 by New Zealand in another agonising final loss
- The defeat ended a 30-match unbeaten streak for Simon Middleton’s side
- Middleton said that he did not think he would he would ever ‘get over’ the defeat
The pain of World Cup final heartbreak was written all over Simon Middleton’s face the morning after the night before as he looked back on another England near miss.
Broken and bleary-eyed after a night of little sleep, the Red Roses head coach spoke in staccato sentences.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,’ Middleton said. ‘But I’ll learn to live with it. Worse things happen.’
Simon Middleton said that he was unlikely to ever get over the defeat his side suffered
For Middleton and his senior players such as Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt, to face an inquest into yet more World Cup final misery was to experience deja vu of the worst possible kind.
In 2017, England were beaten by New Zealand when it mattered most. Five years later, the Black Ferns repeated the trick. It ended a 30-match unbeaten run for the Red Roses at the worst possible moment and on the biggest stage.
‘It’s a tough morning for everyone,’ said Middleton. ‘It feels like we have hit a bump. We didn’t get what we came here for and that will be my lasting memory. We nearly did, but not quite. We unquestionably did the best we could.’
Clutching a cider in the Eden Park mixed zone the previous evening, Scarratt was no doubt hoping the booze would somehow numb the pain. One bottle certainly was not enough.
There was frustration for England but they can still take positives from the tournament
‘We’re gutted but what an amazing occasion,’ said Scarratt, who then looked forward to the next World Cup in 2025 in England.
‘In three years it could be a sold-out Twickenham and what an amazing opportunity it would be. I said to my mum when I saw her, “Brace yourself, we might have to do another three years of this”.
‘It’s certainly a driving force to win a World Cup. That’s why I’m here. There are some people who are seriously hurting. Only one team gets to win. I remember saying the same thing in 2017. Unfortunately, again, it’s not us.
A 17th minute red card for England wing Lydia Thompson (left) proved to be crucial
‘When you come on these journeys you hope to go home with the trophy, but sport doesn’t give you those fairytales all the time.
‘I don’t know how you rank World Cup final losses. It’s tough. We knew it was always going to be tough coming on such a long trip. The favourites tag on us was such a large part of the tournament and we then went into a pressure cauldron like that. We could have won that game.
‘I don’t know when I’ll look back on it, probably not for a while to be honest. It’s just sad, isn’t it?’
Emily Scarratt appeared in the mixed zone after the game clutching a cider – she must have hoped the alcohol would numb yet further World Cup heartache
England’s players fronted up impressively. Head coach Middleton has forged a fine group, but he will most likely move on after a second successive final defeat.
‘I work for a great group of people and they will support me in whatever decision we think is right,’ he said when questioned on his future. Middleton, who is contracted until next summer, will hold talks with RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney when he returns to England.
Whether Scarratt, captain Hunter and Marlie Packer will make the next World Cup is very much in doubt.
England captain Sarah Hunter was left emotional following her side’s World Cup final defeat
England’s route to the final could not have gone better. Their planning and winning run had been superb. But on the biggest stage, things went up in smoke.
Lydia Thompson’s red card for a dangerous tackle on Portia Woodman left the Red Roses to play more than an hour with 14.
Middleton gave his backing to the introduction of 20-minute red cards for dangerous tackles lacking in intent which is what he thought Thompson’s hit was. Middleton could be forgiven for his emotions, but she deserved to be sent off. England, even with a numerical disadvantage, still mauled New Zealand to death.
The Black Ferns had no answer in the tight, but in the loose they were out of this world.
Given space to roam and guided by ‘professor’ coach Wayne Smith, the hosts cut loose to outscore England six tries to five. Outstanding centre Stacey Fluhler’s effort was the best of the lot.
Hunter will not be at the World Cup but hopes the next generation have been inspired
Still, England were given one last shot at victory. As the clock went into the red, they had a line-out five metres out. Given their dominance in that area, it could not have been a better chance to win it at the death. Hooker Amy Cokayne had earlier scored three tries from line-out drives.
But her replacement Lark Davies failed to hit jumper Abbie Ward when it mattered most. The set-piece was too predictable and Joanah Ngan-Woo stole possession. England’s World Cup dream shattered there and then as the majority of a 42,579-strong crowd went wild with delight.
‘We battled so hard,’ Ward said. ‘We were so close and it is a cruel sport. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved and maybe it’s bigger than this final. You’ve seen what we’ve done for women’s rugby.’
Maybe in time England will appreciate the part they played in a titanic clash. From here, the women’s game is set to explode. That can only be good for rugby.
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