The Kiwi Ferns have marched into their sixth-consecutive World Cup Final with a 20-6 win over tournament hosts England in York on Tuesday (AEDT).
After leading by just two points at half-time, Apii Nicholls and Mele Hufanga led a second-half charge to ensure the Kiwi Ferns continued their remarkable run of playing in every World Cup final since the tournament's inception in 2000.
After a Nicholls knock-on handed the hosts early field position, the Lionesses opened their account in the fourth minute when fullback Francesca Goldthorp crossed out wide and Tara-Jane Stanley converted for a 6-0 lead.
New Zealand hit back through centre Hufanga in the 15th minute after a strong run by Broncos prop Amber Hall who evaded several defenders and sent a well-timed pass back inside to Hufanga.
Come the 28th minute and New Zealand had their second when NRLW Dally M Medal winner Raecene McGregor exploded out from dummy half five metres out, stepped off her left foot and crashed over the goal line.
After another unsuccessful conversion, Ricky Henry's side headed to the break with just a two-point lead.
Six minutes into the second half saw a great moment for New Zealand when Hufanga and Nicholls charged downfield to find Otesa Pule on the left who crossed the stripe for her first World Cup try.
Come the 51st minute and courtesy of another barnstorming break from Hufanga down the right edge, the Ferns swung the ball back infield to find Brianna Clark who found the gap to score untouched next to the uprights. Nicholls converted to make it 20-6.
Match: England v New Zealand
Semi Finals -
Venue: LNER Community Stadium, York
- The Lionesses completed 15 of 17 sets in the first half at 88 per cent. The Ferns were 14 of 21 at 66 per cent.
- The Ferns made 177 more running metres than the Lionesses in the first half (873 to 696).
- New Zealand topped all attacking stats in the first half - with two more line breaks and 104 more kick metres.
- New Zealand finished the match with 15 errors, while England made nine.
- Rugby Union convert Mele Hufanga has scored three tries for New Zealand in her first three international appearances.
- England and New Zealand met in the semi-finals five years ago at Cronulla's Shark Park. It was the Ferns who prevailed 52-4.
- 7139 fans descended on LNER Community Stadium in York to watch the semi-final on Tuesday.
- Finishing her 80-minute performance with 185 run metres, 13 tackle breaks and a line break, Mele Hufanga was named player-of-the-match.
Play of the Game
Otesa Pule's first World Cup try in the 46th minute was beautifully constructed by the Ferns, igniting their second-half charge. Halfback Raecene McGregor found Mele Hufanga on her right side who charged the ball downfield before putting fullback Apii Nicholls into a hole. The explosive Titan raced the ball back through the middle before being brought to ground but got the Hail Mary offload away and Roxy Murdoch-Masila was there to push it onto Otesa Pule to score.
What They Said
"The build-up to today was just all about working hard for ourselves. It was just our mentality and attitude that changed for us (second half), we knew that it was do-or-die and we weren't coming home. I think we've played every game of this tournament like it was our final." - Player-of-the-match Mele Hufanga
"They've worked so hard for this moment and we've been confident in our camp all along. We didn't play our best footy tonight but I'm so proud of them. But being honest we've got to be better with our completions and errors, so we'll try take it to Australia and get real physical with them as well." - Ferns coach Ricky Henry
Hufanga immense for Kiwi Ferns
The Kiwi Ferns will meet with the Jillaroos in their fourth-consecutive World Cup Final at Old Trafford, Manchester on Sunday (AEDT). Having pushed the defending champions to the limit in a 10-8 loss in their pool match, the Kiwi Ferns will fancy their chances of springing an upset.
After enjoying victories over Brazil, Canada and Papua New Guinea, the Lionesses can take plenty of positives away from the tournament as they set sail for France 2025.