England were crowned the inaugural WXV 1 champions following a thrilling final day of action at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
The Red Roses ran in five tries to beat hosts New Zealand 33-12 and avenge their Women's Rugby World Cup 2021 final defeat to the same opponents.
The result also meant Canada finished second and Australia third after they both picked up excellent final round wins.
Canada were grateful to a late Fancy Bermudez try as they secured a hard-fought 29-20 victory against France in Saturday's opening match.
England 33-12 New Zealand
England became WXV 1 2023 champions, after a 33-12 win over New Zealand. The victory, built on a dominant opening quarter that yielded three tries, maintained their perfect tournament record and was the heaviest defeat the Black Ferns have ever suffered on home soil.
The Red Roses swung onto attack straight away in perfect conditions at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium, forcing a scrum five metres out from the line after only four minutes. A massive shove from her forward pack meant number eight Alex Matthews was able to pick and score, setting the tone for what was to come.
Next the English went back to what they are famous for, converting a penalty into a lineout drive try. Lark Atkin-Davies was again the recipient, adding another to the four she scored last weekend against Canada.
As if to prove they weren’t completely reliant on their set piece, the next English visit to the New Zealand 22 involved some very patient and efficient play at the ruck, creating space for Sarah Bern to dive over and increase the lead.
In fact, it took the Black Ferns 26 minutes just to get some possession in the English half, although it was well defended and England almost scored off a turnover. A blade of grass was all that stopped Ellie Kildunne touching down from a beautiful grubber kick through by Holly Aitchison, denying what would have been an unbelievable pick up and finish.
However, the Black Ferns showed that they were able to pounce on even the smallest mistake, after a knock-on at the back of an English scrum feed on halfway.
The ball was swung wide to Ruby Tui, whose run took her into the 22. Two rucks later and a huge overlap had opened up on the open side, with Kennedy Simon straightening up to score and get the Black Ferns on the board.
Katelyn Vahaakolo was injected into the game after half-time for New Zealand, making an immediate impact with a strong carry up the middle. It led to a penalty and a lineout five metres out from the line, while England did well to defend the drive, they couldn’t stop the Black Ferns’ backs combining to send Vahaakolo over to score in the other corner.
The pace of the game had been frenetic for the start of the second half so England, perhaps mindful of the circumstances of last year’s Rugby World Cup final, were more than happy to take their time around a series of scrum resets shortly after.
It allowed them to inch towards the goal line with a series of rucks, Morwenna Talling crashing over to score an important try that pushed it to a two-score lead with Aitchison’s conversion.
The next 10 minutes were when England really put the game away. A long period of defence along halfway frustrated New Zealand into handling errors, then the Red Roses struck with clinical efficiency when their chance came.
Again, it was direct play that paid dividends, more runners close to the ruck until Zoe Aldcroft was able to cross for the try that put the game fully out of reach for New Zealand.
It was an extra sweet moment for Aldcroft, who was ruled out of last year’s Rugby World Cup final after picking up an injury in the warm-up. Kildunne almost put an exclamation point on proceedings with another try, but her excellent finish was once again overruled by the TMO due to an infringement in the lead up.
The rest of the match was played in New Zealand’s half, as the English controlled the tempo well. The final whistle brought forth well-deserved celebrations from the Red Roses, who capped off an unbeaten year with another trophy.
Canada 29-20 France
A 66th-minute try from Fancy Bermudez clinched a 29-20 win for Canada over France in the last round of WXV 1 action in Auckland. The flying centre dotted down after some lovely work down the wing, with the scores locked at 19-all in the final quarter.
More sunny conditions greeted the two sides as they made their way onto Go Media Mt Smart Stadium. France were coming off a shock loss to Australia last weekend and started like they meant to make up for it, dominating possession and territory. Canada were caught offside after only two minutes, Morgane Bourgeois landing a straightforward penalty goal to open the scoring.
France once again kept up the attack, setting up camp in the Canadian half and sending Marine Ménager off on a nice run around the edge and into the 22. Quick ruck ball got them close to the line, in particular a strong carry by number eight Charlotte Escudero, then experienced scrum-half Pauline Bourdon Sansus ducked and dived her way over close to the posts.
Bourgeois converted to make the score 10-0 and it felt like France were well on their way, but the Canadians woke from their slumber to gradually wrest back control. Eventually they were awarded a penalty on the French 10-metre line, a great kick to touch saw them set up with a lineout close to the try line.
The well drilled Canadian pack executed their drive perfectly, sending hooker Emily Tuttosi over for a well-deserved try. Sophie de Goede’s conversion closed the score up to 10-7, which is how it stayed until the half-time break.
Whatever was said in the Canadian changing rooms clearly worked, as they returned to the field and scored one of the tries of the tournament. After a very good run out of her own her own 22 by Paige Farries, Canada found themselves attacking over halfway. Beautiful hands by Sara Svoboda, Farries, Bermudez and Sarah-Maude Lachance sent Krissy Scurfield away on a 20-metre run in to score.
Canada kept on the pressure only five minutes later, again setting themselves with another five-metre lineout.
A focused drive saw hard-working second row Courtney Holtkamp driven over, establishing a 19-10 lead and putting the onus on France to respond. Bourdon Sansus certainly rose to the challenge with a series of excellent runs, one of which set up a very good try for Ménager that drew Les Bleues within two points.
Bermudez’s try came soon after, making the score 26-17 and providing the decisive blow the Canadians needed. Although both sides traded penalties in the last 10 minutes, Canada efficiently controlled the tempo to close out a memorable victory.
It was good reward for Canada, who bounced back from a disappointing loss to England last weekend. It is their second win over France in their last three meetings and saw them leapfrog Australia into second spot on the WXV 1 standings.