WRWC Final: The battle of all battles

(IRB.COM) Saturday 4 September 2010
 WRWC Final: The battle of all battles
Who will lift the World Cup at The Stoop? - Photo: Martin Seras Lima

The battle of all battles, the phrase England coach Gary Street has used to describe the Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 final against three-time defending champions New Zealand at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday.

A phrase which sums up what should unfold on the pitch before a crowd in excess of 10,000, two teams desperate to get their hands on the silverware, two forward packs who will not take a step back, two backlines with players capable of turning a match in an instant.

Maggie Alphonsi has been a terrier around the breakdown for England, making powerful hits and turning over ball while also charging through a gap in the defence, while Danielle Waterman has been side-stepping through defences, particularly against the USA in the pool stages.

With captain Melissa Ruscoe leading by example in the forwards and veteran Anna Richards pulling the strings at fly half to unleash their lethal backline with breath-taking results, not least in the semi final as they sliced through the French defence almost at will to score some memorable tries.

For many fans attending the tournament it is the dream final, the hosts against the defending champions, the Red Roses hoping to avoid a third successive loss to New Zealand in the title decider and the Black Ferns seeking a fourth straight crown and a 19th consecutive World Cup win.

"It's the final I was hoping for," admitted Street. "I believe we are the two best sides in the world. I think we are going to give the public an awesome final and it should be great for Women's Rugby again."

His New Zealand counterpart Brian Evans knows this is the case, but like the whole of his squad has not allowed the thought of an expected progression to the final to get in the way of actually doing the business out on the pitch.

"Never ever [have we taken it for granted]. There's just banana skins waiting for you and all along something could have happened, it may have been to us, could have been to England, and I think England were aware of it as well.

"That Aussie team - a bit more bounce ball of the ball, it could have been them [England] going out, so you just focus on each game. It's a cliché, but it's reality, you've just got to look at each game and move forward.

"They're aware of the pressure of the World Cups, but at the end of the day it's not a burden for them, which I think is fantastic. They just seem to approach it game by game, get good results and move onto the next one."

One for all

That next one is now the big one, the title decider, the last hurrah of their international careers for a number of the players, the chance to write their name into the history books of Women's Rugby, the chance to leave a legacy to the next generations to wear the rose or silver fern on their jerseys.

"You don't get into a team like this without huge support from a range of people, you can't," explained Ruscoe, a World Cup winner four years ago in Canada. "It's too difficult to be in a top level sport, in this team and not get the support in your daily life.

"All the girls are appreciative of the support we've got here, but also we realise it's not just us who are playing in the jersey, but the Black Ferns who have worn it before us, and it's all the support at home and the guys that are in the crowd.

"We've set high standards in the success of the Black Ferns team now and as it has been in history. You have high standards on and off the field and even though we don't play professionally, we certainly want to be as professional we can be.

"You get a lot of external pressure but I think most of the pressure comes from the girls within the team. We don't want to make mistakes, we want to perform the best we can, we haven't done that this tournament.


"But we've got one more game left and hopefully it will be in that final."

Ruscoe, though, is only too aware that England will be desperate to avoid a hat-trick of losses.

"That's going to be motivation for them. Both teams have made it to the final and if you make a World Cup final you deserve to be there, so everybody is going to go out there to try and do their little bit to help their team.

"I don't think the English will be short of motivation and obligation to do that on their home soil.

"Who knows, it would be fantastic if we won it, but England would be just as happy, I'm sure, winning their World Cup. It's going to be a tough game, but we are both in the final, so at the moment it's 50:50."

The 33-year-old flanker missed the Black Ferns' tour of England last November with concussion and in her absence New Zealand won the first test but then lost the second before a crowd of more than 12,000 at Twickenham, the first loss to the Red Roses in eight years.

Fear factor

For her England counterpart Catherine Spencer, the significance of that 10-3 victory in pouring rain cannot be underestimated, even if only on a mental level that players now realise the Black Ferns aren't an untouchable side.

"It's going to provide us with great confidence - we can beat the world champions," admitted the number 8. "In that two match series we didn't play that well in our first test, I think we were a bit fazed by it and actually we've now got that out of the way.

"We don't need to be like that and come Sunday, as we've been saying to the girls all along, it's just another game of rugby, and another game of rugby that we need to go out and win."

A sentiment echoed by Street: "I think it just takes some of the fear factor away and gives us a bit . more confidence. We hadn't beaten them for a long time, I think if we had gone into the game, not having beaten them for eight or nine years and losing every game in that period, I think it would have been tough mentally.

"But the fact that we beat them last time, although we respect them as a good side, we know that on our day we can beat them and that's going to hold us in good stead.

"It's been massive for us [to become world champions after those final defeats], but all we can focus on is Sunday. We are not playing the New Zealand side that won three World Cups, we are playing the side that is in front of us on Sunday and it's our 15 against their 15.

Real threat

"That is going to be our focus, the here and now and the next 80 minutes."

Both coaches and captains are united in the belief that an 80 minute performance is what it will take for them to receive the Women's Rugby World Cup trophy from International Rugby Board Chairman Bernard Lapasset on Sunday evening.

"We're expecting England to throw everything at us. They beat us the last time we played them so that's fresh in our memories, but they're a very good team," admitted Evans, who has named an unchanged starting XV for the final, the only change sees Linda Itunu replace Monalisa Codling on the bench.

"They've done everything resource wise to win it and we're fully aware of that and the threat they pose. Right across the park they have got class players, so it's going to be a huge game.

"My players will want to play a total game, which is hard to do because the opposition has always got a big say in that, so whether you can get an 80-minute performance is another thing. But they know they can play better for longer periods of the game."

Patience the key

Street, who has made five changes to his line-up, two forced with Heather Fisher and Fiona Pocock ruled out with injuries, added: "We can't switch off against them. They are great finishers and they are great rugby players so we are just going to have to make sure that we are at the top of our game for 80 minutes and hopefully that will be good enough to take the cup."

Spencer, who scored the only try when the sides last met at Twickenham, admits that England must "take our opportunities" and "cut out the errors", while her opposite number Ruscoe believes patience will be key to deciding who is crowned world champions.

"I think it's just going to be the team who has the patience to be honest. It's 80 minutes, even though the game goes really fasts, it is actually quite a long time and patience is going to be the key," she explained. "It's certainly going to be one of our focuses like it was against the French.

"It's the team who are going to trust what they are doing and trust the game plan and if you win it in the last 10 seconds, you win it in the last 10 seconds. It's history, when you look back in the history books it doesn't say 'they scored in the last 10 minutes', it says you won or lost.

"It's an 80-minute game, so we've just got to be upfront and clinical for that full 80 minutes."