New Zealand wrecked England’s hopes of retaining the Women’s Rugby World Cup in a pulsating final at Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium.
The Black Ferns overturned a seven-point interval deficit to triumph 41-32.
Prop Toka Natua led the way, scoring a hat-trick of tries, while there were also touchdowns for full-back Selica Winiata (two), lock Charmaine Smith and scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge, with Cocksedge adding three conversions.
Wing Lydia Thompson scored two tries for England, in addition to a seven-point penalty try, plus a late Izzy Noel-Smith touchdown, and full-back Emily Scarratt booted two penalties and two conversions, yet New Zealand were not to be denied a fifth world title.
Some England players now face an uncertain future – Rugby Foootball Union policy means that existing 15-a-side contracts will switch to sevens for the next two years.
England gave it everything, but they had no answer in the second half, conceding 31 points as New Zealand’s superior pace and power left them reeling.
“The scoreline suggests a fantastic game of rugby,” a disappointed Scarratt said.
“We’re gutted. We came here with one goal and we just pulled up a little bit short.
“Fair play to New Zealand, because they brought it. Rugby’s a really tough game to play without the ball.
“In that second half we didn’t have the ball, partly our fault and partly the pressure they put on to us.
“Gutted is an understatement, but we’ll move on from this.”
The final was broadcast live on ITV and Scarratt hopes the exposure can entice fans to the women’s game.
She added: “I really hope so. We’re on primetime. It’s never been done before for women’s rugby.
“Obviously we might have got a few more fans if we could’ve won this game. The spectacle of it... it wasn’t a boring game of rugby. There were tries everywhere.
“It’s been amazing.”