|Canada: (12) 19|
|Attempts: Paquin, Corrigan, Beukeboom; Cons: Good 2|
|England: (15) 26|
|Attempts: Packer, Dow 2; Pens: Scarratt 3; Opposite: Scarratt|
England booked their place in the World Cup finals by showing passion to hold off a decisive Canada at Eden Park.
The Red Roses presented their toughest challenge of the year as Canada’s amateur side beat expectations to a three-try tie in Auckland.
But the England pro stood up to the challenge, scoring a stunning try from Abby Dow and three penalties from Emily Scarratt to seal victory.
England will play hosts and holders New Zealand or France in the final.
The Black Ferns take on France in the second semi-final later on Saturday and both sides will be hoping to face tougher opposition than Canada.
The Red Roses extended their record 30-game winning streak with the victory in the finals and will look to clinch their first world title since 2014 on November 12.
England fans have an unusual taste for nerves
England started the World Cup as strong favourites, but as the finals weekend approached, the narrative subtly changed with New Zealand’s confidence growing as quickly as questions about the game plan for England’s forwards.
Things were a bit of a mess for the pre-England match as Hannah Botterman and Lucy Packer dropped out of the squad with late injuries.
The Red Roses looked their most vulnerable all tournament as the Canadian underdogs got off to a strong start.
Center Scarratt looked unusually nervous as he bowled two high balls but soon set things straight with a classy offload to Tatyana Heard that showed England’s backs had come to play this time.
England’s opening try still came from her own unique lineout, with Zoe Harrison kicking the corner instead of trying to take the three points off the tee.
But the second try was a bit of running rugby in the sun, Helena Rowland, a lively presence at the back from the start, chipped in enough defenders, covering the midfield and creating enough space for Dow to overcome.
It looked as though Canada would not be able to cope with an England team playing with more intensity than they had all tournament and the semi-final was over after 15 minutes.
But what England showed in attack, they lacked in defence. Canada’s scrum-half Justine Pelletier exposed first, finding a gap and allowing flanker Karen Paquin to score.
Shortly after, England kicked again in the corner when they could have gone for goal, but this time they were not rewarded as Abbie Ward held over the try.
Once again Canada gained momentum and the pressure on England increased, giving them a taste of their maul, going back to 22.
Off the next line, the Canadians went wide and Rowland was left with too much to do when center Alysha Corrigan scored, Sophie de Goede’s conversion in the eighth to tie the game at 12-12.
England fans suddenly had a feeling they shouldn’t have experienced for about a year: nerves. This time, when England won a penalty in front of the posts, Scarratt took the opportunity to take a narrow lead into the break.
England survive the physical encounter
England were immediately given the chance to double their lead as Scarratt converted another penalty after the break.
Shortly afterwards Rowland, a reliable force at the back for England, went down with an injury that looked serious enough to rule him out of the final and came off the field, with full-back Ellie Kildunne coming on.
England’s character was further tested as Canada’s forwards repeatedly battered them less than a meter from the try line.
Backed into a corner, the Red Roses had probably their best test of the year.
Claudia MacDonald started to get the ball off her try line and cut between the defenders and found a running Dow.
Dow was told he would miss the World Cup due to a broken leg suffered in April, but he looked as strong as ever as he covered the midfield to score a try that will surely go down in World Cup history.
However, Canada would not be defeated and England’s Vicki was sent to Cornborough as she defended the 22nd of the red roses.
After a break from Canadian fly-half Alex Tessier, England were forced into tighter defenses on the tryline, but this time he couldn’t keep the opposition out and was beaten by Tyson Beukeboom.
De Goede’s conversion got Canada within four points before Scarratt’s third penalty gave England a more comfortable seven-point cushion, with which they finished the game.
England players ran to hug each other in celebration after surviving a wild and physical encounter. With Rowland returning to the field on crutches to celebrate, it remains to be seen how energetically the team will bounce back into the final.
Canada: happy Grant, Corrigan, Kaljuvee, Farries; Tessier, Pelletier; DeMerchant, Tuttosi, Menin, Holtkamp, Hunt, Forteza, Paquin, De Goede (captain).
Replacements: Boag, Kassil, Ellis, Fuamba, Beukeboom, Senft, Svoboda, Holly.
England: Rowland; Dow, Scarratt, Heard, MacDonald; Harrison, Infanta; Cornborough, Cokayne, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, M Packer, Hunter (capt).
Replacements: Davies, Muir, Brown, Galligan, Cleall, Kabeya, Aitchison, Kildunne.