England are now just 80 minutes away from World Cup glory but the nature of their 26-19 semi-final win over Canada will give either hosts New Zealand or France hope of a big final upset. Simon Middleton’s side did enough to secure a 30th straight victory at Eden Park. 

The sensational finishing of Dow, who only just recovered from a broken leg in time to make it to New Zealand, got them out of trouble. Canada’s forwards had plenty of joy against an English pack used to sweeping all before them and in the first half especially, their rugby was a joy to watch.

Canada couldn’t cause the ultimate upset mainly due to Abby Dow’s superb brace  but for the first time in a long time they showed that England can be troubled.  The Red Roses, women’s rugby’s dominant force, were made to look unusually vulnerable.

England only led 15-12 at the halftime break. They lacked accuracy throughout the first 40 but it must be noted Canada were exceptional with the Auckland wind doing them no favours. England made two late changes on the eve of kick-off. Prop Hannah Botterman and reverse scrum-half Lucy Packer were lte withdrawals with knee and ankle injuries respectively. 

Now only the Black Ferns or their pool stage opponents France stand between them and the trophy.Whoever England face will look at this game knowing the Red Roses can be beaten.  Canada’s almost totally amateur squad should be proud of their efforts here. They were exceptional. 

Vickii Cornborough replaced Botterman with Middleton rejigging his bench to include six forwards with Shaunagh Brown and Sadia Kabeya coming into the 23. England’s Emily Scarratt made a poor start with two early spills inside 90 seconds followed by a charged down kick.

Scarratt added a pinpoint conversion but then threw a poor pass to gift Canada possession. England’s second try was made by Helena Rowland and finished superbly by Dow who showed power as well as pace to beat two Canada defenders and score in the corner.Canada hit back with a superb try after Scarratt’s conversion attempt hit the post.

But the experienced centre did follow that with a nice offload to Tatyana Heard.England’s first try came from a familiar source. As she had had done with a hat-trick in the quarter-final win over Australia, Marlie Packer benefited from the force of the Red Roses driving maul.

Scrum-half Justine Pelletier made a brilliant break and kicked ahead. Flanker Karen Paquin won the race to the line.England were far from perfect. Zoe Harrison’s restart went out on the full.Canada’s jinking backs also caused problems. But Harrison responded to a rare error with a fine 50:22 kick. It summed up her impressive tactical acumen. Abbie Ward was held up over the line.England were ahead but not firing on all cylinders. Canada certainly were.

They soon had a second. It was fine rugby. The Canada forwards sent England’s much-vaunted pack into reverse and then the ball was spread wide. Alysha Corrigan was the player to score.Canada captain Sophie de Goede’s conversion tied the scores.Scarratt kicked a simple penalty just before the break to give England a narrow interval lead but the fact she even opted to do so showed the Red Roses realised they were in a game.

Scarratt began the second half as she’d ended the first by booting another easy three points before England lost full-back Rowland – who had been her team’s bright spark to injury. Rowland was taken from the field on a buggy with what looked like a lower leg injury and was replaced by Ellie Kildunne. Rowland must now be considered a big final doubt and was seen wearing a protective boot and on crutches after returning to the bench.

Middleton’s ecstatic celebrations in the coaching box told you everything about how important the try was. Canada still refused to go quietly. Their forwards got to work and forced a yellow card for England prop Cornborough. With a player advantage, Canada then criminally threw the line-out awry.

England looked in trouble. They were camped on their own line and under relentless pressure. But when they won back possession, they went the length of the field to score. Claudia MacDonald started the move by running the ball out of danger and then cleverly identifying space inside for fellow wing Dow who did the rest by leading Canada’s covering tacklers a merry dance.

By that stage England captain Sarah Hunter had already been replaced after a quiet game. Packer was also surprisingly taken off. Without her, England couldn’t pull clear.Canada closed to within four points going into the final 10 minutes.

Replacement Tyson Beukeboom crossed for a powerful Canadian forward effort as England were beaten at their own game. De Goede converted to make it 23-19.Scarratt, who had taken over from Hunter as captain, gave her team a stern and long talking to behind the posts but went straight up the other end to nail a crucial penalty.

It was enough for England to edge a barnstorming World Cup contest. This was a fantastic advert for the women’s game but one from which Middleton and his players must learn. France or New Zealand will be yet another step up from Canada.

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