Danielle Waterman was in a relaxed and confident mood as she made her way out of the England team hotel ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2014 final.
Chasing a first RWC title since 1994, and following three successive final defeats to New Zealand, England had flirted with a pool-stage exit eight days previously.
However, the team’s 13-13 draw with Canada proved enough to send both teams into the semi-finals and England subsequently found their form with a 40-7 defeat of Ireland in the last four.
Waterman, one of four members of the England squad who had played in the previous two RWC final defeats, ranks that semi-final win as the best team performance of her 82-cap test career.
“Everything just seemed to click,” Waterman told World Rugby.
“We had a team of world-class players and when that goes right, you end up with a scoreline like that. But it was no reflection on how well Ireland played and how physical it was and how tough it was. We were just pretty much unstoppable that day.”
Victory had brought belief and confidence coursing back into a close-knit team at just the right moment, and a feeling of togetherness was strengthened on the eve of the final — where Canada would again be waiting.
Up for the challenge
Before England’s jersey presentation ceremony, the team’s psychologist, Dr Cherrie Daley, had collated pictures of the players and written quotes from their team-mates on each one.
When the players walked into the meeting they were greeted by the messages of support. “That really galvanised everything that we were as a team,” Waterman said.
“To go back to your room with your World Cup final shirt and all of those nice messages that your team-mates had said about you was really special.”
The mood within the squad remained bright when it came time to board the team coach. As Waterman took her place next to Rachael Burford, a fellow veteran of the 2006 and 2010 campaigns, a few players posed for pictures with the police seconded to provide them an escort.
With the aid of the outriders, England’s bus arrived at the Stade Jean-Bouin, in Paris, early. The driver was forced to circle back around the block, meaning Waterman — who had queued up ‘If This Is It’ by Newton Faulkner to play as the venue came into view — had her pre-match preparation momentarily thrown out of sync.
“I always used to listen to [that] one specific song when I could see the stadium,” she explained. “I remember having to put it on repeat because we went round.”
Waterman believes the shared experiences of 2006 and 2010 had given the squad a “drive and determination” to go out and make it third time lucky. But as kick-off approached those lost finals did not dominate the players’ thoughts.
“Although we had been talking about it in the build-up to the game, actually it was about that tournament and we had been building through that tournament with that group of players,” she said.
“I remember there just being this calm confidence, the girls just really being up for the challenge.”
Waterman’s main worry as she walked out for the anthems was whether she would be able to locate her biggest fan in the crowd.
“My mum would always make sure that she would get tickets on the side of the stadium that we would be singing the anthem to but she’d picked up her tickets quite late and hadn’t known, and hadn’t told me, where she was going to be sat,” Waterman said.
“As I stood in the line-up and put my arms around the girls, literally, I looked up and the first person I saw was my mum.
“To be able to give her a massive smile was pretty emotional but at the same time I think it summed up [the day that] probably the person that had been there through everything was the first I got to see and to know, yeah, it was just another game of rugby and hopefully we win this time.”
‘Pass me the ball!’
Canada had won the forward battle in the pair’s Pool A match but any fears that they would transfer that advantage from Marcoussis to the home of Stade Français were quickly allayed.
Waterman had seen how pumped up back-row Maggie Alphonsi had been prior to kick-off and was heartened to see that desire translated onto the pitch in the early exchanges.
“If we could launch Maggie off a scrum from a defensive perspective, like we always knew we could, we were gonna stand a really good chance,” Waterman said.
“The first scrum of the game that they had she absolutely flew off the back and completely wellied the 10. I remember having a bit of a smile to myself.”
Centre Emily Scarratt, who kicked eight points in the 13-13 draw at Marcoussis, slotted two early penalties to calm English nerves but it was soon Waterman’s time to shine.
Following an impressive team move, Tamara Taylor threw a sumptuous dummy and dished a pass to Alphonsi on her right shoulder. Waterman admitted she had anticipated that Taylor would be tackled but used her speed to get up in support and take a pass to score in the corner.
“By the time Maggie got the ball I was literally running as fast as I could to get to her and then I remember thinking, you best pass me the ball Maggie! Because she wasn’t renowned for passing, that’s for sure,” Waterman said.
“When I slid in to score I remember thinking, I don’t know how to celebrate. So, I just threw the ball in the air and then had this most amazing moment with Kat Merchant, a fantastic friend who was playing on the wing, who just had her arms up in the air and just gave me this big, huge hug.”
Three Magali Harvey penalties would reduce England’s lead to just two points with less than 23 minutes remaining, but Scarratt replied almost immediately with three points of her own.
A collision with Scarratt’s “magical boot” at a breakdown shortly afterwards would require Waterman to leave the field to receive stitches, without an anaesthetic, and ensure she retains a physical memento from the match.
However, the full-back was back on the pitch to see her team-mate power her way through the Canadian defence and over the line to all-but seal victory with time running out.
“Everyone was just shocked by how she’d managed to create something from nothing,” Waterman said.
“We’d been knocking on the door for a little while, we’d put on a reasonable amount of pressure but her finish was absolutely epic.”
Around six minutes later referee Amy Perrett blew the final whistle and, with a dead leg to add to the cut below her left eye, Waterman was finally a RWC winner.
“It was just a huge emotion of relief,” Waterman admitted.
“Katy [Daley-Mclean] summed it up really well in her after-match speech when she said this isn’t just for us. This is for all the players that had gone before us and hadn’t been able to get that win. And I genuinely felt that.
“We were the lucky ones to be on the field when we got it but actually we wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for the misses the years before and actually all of the players had created such an amazing legacy for England women.”
Waterman’s dead leg left her prone at the final whistle but having been helped to her feet by her team-mates, she began celebrating. First in the changing room, then upstairs with her parents and later, alongside the whole squad, with friends and family in a bar on the route back to the team hotel.
“There were hundreds of people, including all of the ex-players and just so many legends of England women’s rugby, all our friends, my mum and my dad and everybody and they all started singing Swing Low,” she recalled.
“Having a sing-song with our rugby family was just really special.”