You could almost hear the sigh of relief from her English teammates as Emily Scarratt broke through one tackle, evaded another and touched down in the corner of Canada’s end zone.
After having to fight for every inch against a resilient Canadian team, England needed a stellar solo effort from its star centre to cement a 21-9 win over Canada in the women’s rugby World Cup final.
Scarratt scored 16 points on Sunday, including 10 straight to close the gold-medal game, as England won its second World Cup and its first in 20 years.
After England dominated in the first half, Canada closed to within two points on a Magali Harvey penalty halfway through the second. But Scarratt kicked a penalty of her own a minute later, then capped the scoring with a try six minutes from the end of regulation.
“We had a couple of opportunities to score tries that could have made a difference, but because we didn’t then they were full of confidence and more physical and fresher than us,” Canada coach Francois Ratier said.
“When you have two opportunities and you don’t score, then it’s almost impossible. It’s not a question of passion or heart. It’s just a question of in the final of any sport, if you don’t score when you have the opportunities, then the other team will take them.”
Scarratt received the ball from a lineout and ran past Mandy Marchak, fended off fullback Julianne Zussman and ran the ball in to give England some much needed breathing room. She kicked a conversion to cap a spectacular tournament for the England centre.
“It’s just a missed tackle,” Ratier said. “We tried to tackle high but (Scarratt) has a really strong upper body. We should have gone lower but that’s the way it is.”
Harvey had all of Canada’s points on three penalties and finished the tournament with 61 points, second only to Scarratt’s 70.
It was Canada’s first appearance in the World Cup final. Its previous best finish was fourth, which it did in three consecutive tournaments from 1998 to 2006. England, meanwhile, ended 16 years of heartache by finally winning it after finishing as runner-up to New Zealand in the last three tournaments.
Harvey was named the IRB women’s player of the year after the game. Canadian captain Kelly Russell was also a finalist for the award.
Harvey and Russell were two of the five Canadian players on the World Cup roster who were on the team that lost to New Zealand in the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens final.
Canada fought to a 13-13 draw with England during the group stage, but it looked like a different English side in the first half on Sunday. They keyed in on Harvey and prevented her from making a game-breaking run as she did in Canada’s semifinal win over host France.
On offence, England used its size to exert all sorts of pressure, making several dangerous advances into Canadian territory.
Scarratt opened the scoring 11 minutes into the match. England drew a penalty after an impressive break from Natasha Hunt, who used her speed to run down the middle deep into the Canadian zone.
England could have come away with more early on, but Canada’s defence held firm with some solid tackling.
Canada was spared a try when Hunt was tackled near the touch-line. An official review declared Hunt had not moved the ball into touch when she was brought down by Andrea Burk.
England kept coming, and Scarratt kicked her second penalty of the game at the 25-minute mark to put England up 6-0.
Canada had trouble getting into England’s zone and it proved costly when Danielle Waterman capped a series of crisp passes and scored the game’s first try at the 33 minute mark. Scarratt missed the convert as England went up 11-0.
“We were not able to match physically. At times we were dominant but they were more consistent,” Ratier said.
“They won some balls and we were not able to attack on the outside. We tried, but they were just better at defence.”
Canada finally started to get some momentum late in the half, and it paid off with a key penalty before the break when England was called for offside. Harvey converted the kick on the last play of the half to cut the deficit to 11-3.
Harvey started the second half with two long penalties, the second from 42 yards out, and Canada suddenly looked dangerous trailing just 11-9.
But that was as close as Canada would come. Scarratt responded with a penalty one minute later to restore England’s advantage to five points.
Canada had some opportunities to close the gap, but Scarratt rescued her team when she scored a try with six minutes left in regulation, and added two points on a conversion.
Canada continued to press for their first try of the game as time ran out. While the Canadians were able to get deep into England’s zone, the English did an excellent job of preventing any runs on the outside from getting through.
“I was happy with how I played, how my team set me up, how they played,” Harvey said. “It’s too bad it couldn’t go until the end, so it wasn’t enough.”
Magali’s scoring, including an incredible try against France where she ran the length of the field, has made her the breakout star of the Canadian team. Ratier said while she is a good teammate and a good player, she is still only one part of the team.
“She’s a winger, so she scores tries because it’s her job,” Ratier said. “She’s the first to get a bit annoyed when she’s made out to be the star of the team, because she doesn’t feel like that at all.”
But Ratier sees the value of having someone like Harvey become the face of the team, especially for a sport like women’s rugby which is still finding a foothold in the Canadian sports landscape.
“It’s good for visibility, it’s good for marketing, it’s good for promotion of the sport, it’s good for the image big time,” he said.