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What we learned from the 2021 Rugby World Cup

What we learned from the 2021 Rugby World Cup

Now the dust has settled on a thrilling 2021 Rugby World Cup final, it’s time to reflect on what was a fabulous five weeks Down Under.

New Zealand ruled supreme but the global game was the real winner, with 26 brilliant matches on show, not least Saturday’s final in Eden Park where 11 tries were scored in a truly epic encounter which swayed one way and then another.

Prior to this year’s tournament, no-one had ever paid to watch the Black Ferns play on home soil. More than 40,000 were in attendance for their greatest victory to date, as they beat an England side that had conquered all other challengers.

Here, we look back on a truly memorable few weeks that has gripped rugby fans old and new.

World Cup defeat does not define England says Hunter

A game-changing final

Nobody could have hoped for a greater advert for women’s rugby than the showpiece England and New Zealand served up.

The pair have contested five of the last six finals, with New Zealand victorious on each occasion. England may not have banished that voodoo, but they have played their part in what will surely alter the direction of the women’s game.

They were the first country to offer full-time contracts, back in 2019, before New Zealand, France, Wales and most recently Ireland have all followed suit, with investment in the game growing year-on-year.

This tournament broke the attendance record for a women’s matchday twice, in the opener and the sell-out final, and it would come as no surprise if England’s Women’s TikTok Six Nations fixture with France at Twickenham is the next to claim top spot.

If Simon Middleton’s side are to make the final again in 2025, which would be a seventh consecutive final appearance, it would come as no surprise if there were 82,000 fans in attendance in south-west London for their shot at redemption.

England finally toppled but still brilliant

Playing for over an hour with 14 players is always tough but doing so against the reigning World champions is brutal.

But the Red Roses are made of sterner stuff and came within one lineout of glory. They had completed 16 of their previous 17-line outs up to the final play of the game on Saturday but had the ball stolen and their hearts broken when Joanah Ngan-Woo jumped highest to clinch the win for the hosts.

That brought an end to a run of 30 games without defeat, a record across the men’s and women’s game and one that may never be beaten.

They have played some thrilling rugby at times, with Abby Dow’s stunning score in the semi-final against Canada which began inside England’s in-goal area a case in point.

And while that try came as a result of a brilliant turn of pace, their pack power was unmatched for most of the tournament too, with 24 of their last 38 tries a result of line-out drives.

Sarah Hunter has led the team in exemplary fashion, and though she may not make the 2025 tournament, which will arrive in her 40th year, she has helped foster a winning and never-say-die mentality that will stand England in good stead long after she hangs up her boots.

World Cup defeat does not define England says Hunter

France make statement in third-place play-off

Such was the anticipation for the clash between the world’s top two that France’s play-off with Canada was somewhat overshadowed.

They set the tone for a thrilling evening in Auckland, running in five tries in a 36-0 win over the Canucks.

That clinched third spot, a position they have made their own at World Cups, having finished there on seven occasions.

Given they played much of the tournament without 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations Player of the Championship Laure Sansus, that represents a fantastic showing, and one that suggests they will be well-placed to launch another title tilt in three years’ time.

They came agonisingly short of a place in this year’s final, losing their last four tie 25-24 to the eventual champions and it seems like only a matter of time before they shatter England and New Zealand’s World Cup duopoly.

Six Nations sides continue to build

Success does not merely come in the form of a tournament victory and there were pleasing displays from each of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations teams there.

Italy produced their best ever World Cup performance, finishing fifth, and beat previous winners USA 22-10 in their Pool B opener which effectively ensured a spot in the quarter-finals.

Wales faced off against New Zealand twice over the course of the tournament, a test which Ioan Cunningham and his side are sure to benefit from in the long run.

Scotland too showed signs of progress, losing two of their three group stage fixtures by three points or less and will look to ruffle a few feathers come springtime and the return of international rugby.