AUCKLAND, New Zealand — England downed a determined Canada 26-19 on Saturday to extend its winning streak to 30 matches and move into the final of the Rugby World Cup.
The high-tempo game was a showcase for women's rugby on a sunny but windy afternoon at Eden Park. Third-ranked Canada gave No. 1 England all it could handle in a hard-hitting physical affair.
There was a turning point in the 50th minute when England, after resolutely defending a prolonged Canadian attack deep in its own half, won the ball back. Instead of kicking to safety, wing Claudia MacDonald elected to run out from behind her try-line. After cutting through the Canadian defence, she passed to Abby Dow who accelerated past the last line of defence for a highlight-reel try — her second of the day — and 23-12 lead.
Canada finally breached the England defence in the 68th minute with lock Tyson Beukeboom crashing over for a converted try that cut the lead to 23-19.
Emily Scarratt's 70th-minute penalty extended the English lead to seven points. Canada kept coming, forcing the English to make tackle after tackle. But England held on.
England will play No. 2 New Zealand, which edged No. 4 France 25-24 in the second semifinal, in next Saturday's final at the 50,000-capacity Eden Park. The Canadian women will play the French for third place.
The Red Roses have not lost since a 28-13 defeat at the hands of New Zealand in July 2019. And they have now won nine straight over Canada.
The Canadian women, meanwhile, came into the semifinal on an eight-game win streak since a 28-0 loss to New Zealand in June at the Pacific Four Series.
The English are a professional side with players under contract to the Rugby Football Union. Many of the Canadians have jobs outside of rugby that they put on hold to prepare for the World Cup.
"I'm so proud of every person in our group and everyone that's been with us since the beginning of this cycle," said an emotional Canadian captain Sophie de Goede.
"There was no difference in talent out there today," she added. "Just imagine what we can do with more games and more resources. I'm really proud to be Canadian and I think there's a bright future ahead for us."
Karen Paquin and Alysha Corrigan also scored tries for Canada, which trailed 15-12 after a first half that saw the Canadians playing into the wind. De Goede kicked two conversions.
Marlie Packer also scored a try for England. Scarratt booted a conversion and three penalties.
It was all-action from the kickoff with the Canadians applying early pressure only to be let down by handling errors. England then attacked and, after a Canadian scrum penalty, kicked into the corner to set up a driving maul from the lineout with Packer going over in the ninth minute.
Scarratt's conversion gave England a 7-0 lead.
Dow capped off a free-flowing England attack, highlighted by a slashing run from fullback Helena Rowland that opened up the Canadian defence, with a 15th-minute try to up the lead to 12-0. Scarratt's conversion attempt hit the post.
Canada answered four minutes later after Justine Pelletier darted out from behind the scrum and raced down the field, making metres before launching a kick that Paquin got to first to touch down to make the score 12-5.
Canada was penalized for not rolling away in the breakdown after another prolonged English attack, producing another lineout near the Canadian try-line. The ball was spun wide this time and England lock Abby Ward crashed over but couldn't get the ball down with Canadian defenders holding her up to deny the try.
Canada's driving maul won back-to-back penalties and, after a Canadian lineout five metres out from the England try-line, Corrigan went over in the 35th minute for a converted try that tied the score as 12-12.
Scarratt gave England a 15-12 lead with a penalty on the stroke of halftime after Canada was penalized for an infraction at the breakdown.
England came out with purpose in the second half and Scarratt kicked another penalty for an 18-12 lead in the 43rd minute after Canada's Sara Kaljuvee was penalized again at the breakdown.
England lost Rowland to injury early in the second half. And prop Vickii Cornborough was sent to the sin-bin in the 54th minute for repeated England violations.
Canada coach Kevin Rouet stuck with the same starting 15 that beat the seventh-ranked Americans 32-11 in last weekend's quarterfinal.
Both Canada and England came into the match having won their four previous matches at the tournament. And both teams boasted a strong pack with effective driving mauls.
The importance of the Canadian pack was shown by the fact that Rouet, for the second game in a row, had seven forwards and just one back on the bench.
The Canadians lost veteran forward Laura Russell and fly half Taylor Perry to injury on the eve of the tournament. Scrum half Brianna Miller was ruled out after an injury against Italy.
The tournament was originally slated for 2021 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Canada's best finish at the tournament was second in 2014 when it lost 21-9 to England in the final. The Canadian women placed fourth in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and were fifth last time out in 2017.
England has never finished out of the top three at the tournament.
The Red Roses also won in 1994 and have finished runner-up five-times (losing to the U.S. in 1991 and New Zealand in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2017). They were third in 1998.
England came into the game with a 28-3-1 all-time edge over Canada. The Red Roses had won the previous eight meetings, outscoring the Canadians 360-110, since a 52-17 loss in the Women's Rugby Super Series in July 2016.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2022
The Canadian Press