A great battle between the world top two ranked teams ended New Zealand's way,
The game could not have had a better start for England. Lydia Thompson collected the ball from Emily Scarratt on her own 10m line before starting a mazy run that saw her reach the New Zealand 22 largely unchallenged, From there the ball was quickly moved to the left where Pocock saw the gap and went over for the first try.
Much of the rest of the half saw England on top – and when they weren’t it tended to be due to conceding penalties that allowed the Ferns to release the pressure. More scoring opportunities came their way, but final passes just failed to go to hand, and a drop attempt by Katy McLean also failed to hit the target.
The Ferns had one scoring chance when a great cross-kick saw Thompson just win the race for England. Only in the final moments of the half did New Zealand finally carry the ball into the England 22 for a sustained attack. England defended with gusto, but after huge pressure under the posts, the Ferns quickly whipped the ball to the left where Wickcliffe was able to go over. Cocksedge then hit the conversion perfectly, and New Zealand went into the break 7-5 ahead.
England began very brightly in the second half. Perhaps the coach’s suggestion that they use the backline more had an effect, but two tries in the opening ten minutes put the Roses in the driving seat, Marlie Packer was the heart of much of this with great runs that first won them a penalty when Winiata blocked her as she chased her kick ahead. That lead to a maul from the lineout with Miller Mills getting the touch. Then barely a minute later she saw a gap that created an overlap for Thompson to go over for her second try. 17-7 to England.
But the Ferns held their shape, and time and again patiently worked the ball forward, cutting down the risks, and going through the phases. Into the final quarter Cocksedge pulled a try back, and a few minutes later added another out wide to level the scores. Her conversion put the Ferns ahead 19-17.
England were not finished. They could find no way through the uncompromising Fern defence, but a Scarratt penalty from 30m out put them back ahead.
But yet again the Ferns went back to the patient buildup, and England infringements proved costly, with two penalties in the last three minutes turned the game finally the Ferns way.
Head Coach Simon Middleton said: “We are hugely disappointed to lose the game having done enough to win. There were many positives at times but we still have plenty to work on.
“We created enough opportunities to win but we didn’t for a number of reasons and we compounded our errors with penalties and we just didn’t manage our game well enough. At times we were outstanding but you’ve got to be consistent against sides like this.”
Rochelle Clark came off the bench in the 55th minute to become the most capped women’s international player of all time, but it was not enough to inspire a Red Rose win in front of a home crowd of over 4,000.
England: Danielle Waterman (Bristol), Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries), Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls), Fiona Pocock (Aylesford), Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls), Amy Cokayne (Lichfield), Laura Keates (Worcester Valkyries), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield), Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol), Marlie Packer (Bristol), Sarah Hunter (Bristol)
Replacements: Emma Croker (Richmond), Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries), Justine Lucas (Lichfield), Poppy Cleall (Bristol), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens), La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Emily Scott (Saracens), Claire Allan (Saracens).
Black Ferns: Selica Winiata, Honey Hireme, Portia Woodman, Chelsea Alley, Renee Wickliffe, Kelly Brazier, Kendra Cocksedge; Aroha Savage, Charmaine McMenamin, Rawinia Everitt, Charmaine Smith, Eloise Blackwell, Aleisha Nelson, Fiao'o Faamausili (c), Toka Natua.
Replacements: Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, Aldora Itunu, Aotearoa Mata'u, Charlene Gubb, Angie Sisifa, Kristina Sue, Carla Hohepa, Hazel Tubic.