England fell short in a pulsating Rugby World Cup final as they were beaten 34-31 by New Zealand in front of a record-breaking crowd at Eden Park.
The Red Roses played much of the game with 14 players after Lydia Thompson’s early sending-off and could not avenge their defeat in the 2017 final to the Black Ferns.
It meant New Zealand ended England’s remarkable 30-Test winning run in style and held on to their title from five years ago on home turf.
“I’m so proud of our team,” New Zealand co-captain Ruahei Demant said. “Last year we went on the northern tour and we got pumped. We sacrificed so much to get the one chance to win a World Cup at home and we did it.
“We hope we have made our country proud and inspired the next generation of Black Ferns.”
England raced into a 14-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of the game thanks to tries from Ellie Kildunne and Amy Cokayne, with Emily Scarratt converting both times.
Disaster struck for the Red Roses in the 17th minute though when Thompson was sent off for a head-to-head collision with the Black Ferns’ Portia Woodman, who also left the field.
That proved to be a turning point as New Zealand replied instantly with a try from Georgia Ponsonby and a kick from Renee Holmes to show they would not roll over without a fight.
The two sides then traded blows as Marlie Packer drove over for the Red Roses before Ayesha Leti-I’iga raced down the wing to take New Zealand to within five points of the Red Roses after Holmes’ conversion.
It was a similar story in the closing stages of the first half, with Cokayne getting her second try from a rolling maul and Scarratt kicking England further ahead, but Amy Rule ensured the Black Ferns had the last say before the break.
New Zealand came out the blocks much faster after the restart and took the lead for the first time thanks to quick-fire scores from Stacey Fluhler and Krystal Murray, as the Black Ferns’ player advantage started to show.
But the maul proved fruitful for England once again as Cokayne drove over for her hat-trick in the 54th minute, while it became 14 vs. 14 when Kennedy Simon was shown a yellow card for a high challenge on Abby Dow.
That did not stop New Zealand from wrestling back control as Fluhler got on the end of a kick and offloaded for Leti-I’iga to dot down with nine minutes left. Despite a late flurry for England, it was heartbreak for the Red Roses.
“Sport can be cruel at times,” England captain Sarah Hunter said. “I’m just so proud of the way this team have shown up not just tonight but over the last three years. I hope that one result doesn’t define the team.
“We gave everything tonight and unfortunately it wasn’t enough to take the trophy home.”
Information from Reuters contributed to this report.