England were crowned champions after beating first-time finalists Canada 21-9 in an enthralling Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 title decider at Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris on Sunday.
Hosts France overcame Ireland 25-18 to finish third, while four-time champions New Zealand ran riot against the USA and Australia beat Wales to secure fifth and seventh place. Spain overcame South Africa for ninth place and Samoa picked up their first win to condemn Kazakhstan to 12th place.
Final: England 21-9 Canada DETAILS >>
The two sides had met in the pool stages with a 13-13 draw securing their places in the last four, but England's greater experience – many of the players having been involved in one or more of the last three final defeats to New Zealand – gave them the favourites tag for many.
England and Canada both emerged with the intention of playing running rugby despite the prize at stake, much to the delight of the crowd. Both sides created early chances but it was an Emily Scarratt penalty that handed six-time finalists England the lead.
It could have been better for England but for some great defence from Canada captain Kelly Russell and her fellow back row Karen Paquin, who hauled down wing Kat Merchant in full flight. Natasha Hunt was ruled held up and then Marlie Packer came close with another barnstorming run, but all England had to show for these efforts was a second Scarratt penalty.
The try eventually came just after the half hour, England keeping the ball alive to work an overlap on the right, Maggie Alphonsi sending full back Danielle Waterman, starting her third WRWC final, over in the right corner to the delight of the England contingent in the crowd. Canada, though, had the final say of the half with Magali Harvey’s penalty making it 11-3 at the break.
Canada emerged from the tunnel with renewed vigour and grew in confidence with every passing minute, wrestling the upper hand in the scrum from England and forcing penalties. They cut the deficit to two points through two Harvey penalties, the last just creeping over the bar. Canada’s tails were up but they instantly conceded a penalty to allow Scarratt to restore the five-point cushion after an hour.
The score remained that way into the last six minutes despite the best endeavours of both sides, but then Scarratt glided through the defence to ease England nerves, the centre shrugging off the tackle of Mandy Marchak to touch down for the decisive score. She converted her own try to push England out to 21-9 but, despite needing two scores, Canada fought vainly until the final whistle.
"All credit to Canada, they were fantastic today, but this group of girls and this group of staff deserve everything that we have got because we have worked so hard for this," said jubilant England captain Katy Mclean. "So many great legends that have gone before us haven’t won (a World Cup) in an England shirt and that was for all of them that were here today and for all of the England rugby family."
Canada captain Kelly Russell said: "A big physical game from both sides, I am so proud of the girls, they put everything they had into it, a lot of heart all round. Credit to England they were the better team today."
Third place play-off: Ireland 18-25 France DETAILS>>
Only four points separated the sides in the Six Nations earlier this year and this battle for third place was every bit as tight with France only making certain of victory with Elodie Guiglion's try with time up on the clock.
Niamh Briggs, a nominee for IRB Women's Player of the Year, gave Ireland the perfect start by converting her early try, but Les Bleues hit back with a try by second row Assa Koita to tie things up.
France suffered a blow when Sandrine Agricole, playing in her last match for her country, was stretchered off just before the half hour mark, but minutes later Jessy Tremouliere touched down.
Ireland though went ahead in the dying seconds of the first half, Grave Davitt's little chip ahead causing mayhem in the French defence, allowing her to gather and dot down, sending the girls in green in with a 15-12 lead.
Les Bleues hit the front again through wing Guiglion out wide, but once more Ireland came back, a mis-hit penalty from Briggs making it 18-17 at the hour mark and it looked as though coach Philip Doyle would get a victory in his final match in charge. It was to be France's day though with another Tremouliere penalty and a second try for Guiglion in the dying seconds.
"We knew coming into it we were good enough to be top four, so to get there and obviously beat New Zealand on the way was amazing but this was not how we wanted to finish, losing two games," said Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan after securing their best ever WRWC finish.
Fifth place play-off: USA 5-55 New Zealand DETAILS >>
Deposed world champions New Zealand salvaged fifth place after putting USA to the sword with a clinical display of finishing. Honey Hireme scored four tries and WRWC 2014 joint top try scorers, Shakira Baker and Selica Winiata, took their overall tally to six with a try apiece as Brian Evans’ side defeated the Eagles for the second time in the tournament.
Playing in their 100th Test match, USA started brightly and appeared to have scored the first try of the match after four minutes through flanker Lynelle Kugler only for referee Helen O’Reilly to chalk it off for a forward pass in the build-up.
Following a scrappy opening to the match, the Black Ferns went in front when the outstanding Amiria Rule cut a good angle and showed great feet to get behind the USA defence and put in back row Aroha Savage for the first try. A blindside move led to second row Rawinia Everitt touching down before the Black Ferns turned on the afterburners with three tries in the space of five minutes, scored by the back three trio of Baker, Winiata and Hireme. USA were twice held up over the line as the half drew to a close with New Zealand ahead 31-0.
USA finally got on the board, either side of Hireme’s second and third tries, when fly half Kimber Rozier intercepted a pass from Winiata and ran half the length of the field to score her first try of the tournament. Replacement Aleisha Nelson added to New Zealand’s lead and Kelly Brazier’s fifth conversion of the match brought up the Black Ferns’ half century for the second time in four days following their earlier rout of Wales. Hireme then rounded off a fine afternoon’s work with her fifth try three minutes from time.
“I’m very proud of what the girls have displayed in the last two matches, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. We just wanted to come out and play top rugby and finish on a high,” said New Zealand captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili. “The loss against Ireland was hard to take but we just had to pick ourselves up, be strong and pull each other through.”
Seventh place play-off: Australia 30-3 Wales DETAILS >>
Australia finished their World Cup campaign on a positive note with a 30-3 victory over Wales in the final match of WRWC 2014 at Marcoussis.
Prop Liz Patu opened the scoring just before the end of the first quarter and another quickly followed from second row Dalena Dennison. Robyn Wilikins kicked a penalty on the half hour to make it 10-3 to Australia at half-time.
The score remained that way until the hour when full back Ashleigh Hewson landed her first kick of the match and wing Tricia Brown then made certain of victory with a try to take the Wallaroos out to 18-3.
Tries from centre pairing Sharni Williams and Cobie-Jane Morgan then put the gloss on the scoreboard as Australia secured seventh place.
Ninth place play-off: South Africa 0-36 Spain DETAILS >>
Scrum half Patricia Garcia contributed 14 points as Spain beat South Africa 36-0 in the first-ever meeting between these sides.
Garcia kicked Spain into an early lead before converting Marta Cabane's try to make it 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. Barbara Pla scored her second try in as many matches on 33 minutes, and with Garcia adding the extras Spain went into the interval three scores in front.
After a scoreless third quarter Spain were awarded a penalty try when the Springbok Women illegally pulled down a mail. Garcia made no mistake from in front of the posts to take the score to 24-0.
Garcia then capped another impressive display with a try late on and there was still just about enough time left on the clock for left wing Eli Martinez to add her name to the scoresheet.
11th place play-off: Samoa 31-0 Kazakhstan DETAILS>>
Two tries from wing Taliilagi Mefi, her first in international rugby, helped Samoa to a comfortable 31-0 win over Kazakhstan in the 11th place play-off.
Mefi crossed the Kazakhstan line twice in the first half, in the ninth and 22nd minutes, with both tries converted by Bella Milo for a 14-0 half-time lead.
Asian champions Kazakhstan had lost both previous Women’s Rugby World Cup clashes with Samoa, in 2002 and 2006, and a third defeat was all but confirmed when wing Tile Start added a third try four minutes into the second half.
Helen Collins went over shortly afterwards before Milo completed the scoring with try number five to help Samoa to their biggest win in eight years.
5. New Zealand
10. South Africa
Tell us what you thought of #WRWC2014 and what your highlights were on Twitter @irbwomens or our Women's Rugby Facebook page