Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns close gap on All Blacks, as women's rugby fever sweeps New Zealand

A new study has revealed the Black Ferns are closing in on the All Blacks when it comes to national interest.

The Auckland University research shows the gap in interest in the men's and women's games is now less than 10 percent.

And with the World Cup final on Saturday night, interest in the Black Ferns can only go in one direction.

Last weekend, the crowd at Eden Park - and much of the country - were on their feet and backing black, as the Ferns edged France 25-24 in their semi-final.

According to the ongoing Auckland University study, the women's 'spirit' and 'style of play' are what's capturing Kiwi hearts.

"People are calling it exciting," said Auckland University Professor Toni Bruce. "They love the passion of the players, they feel the women are playing for the love of the game"

"We pride ourselves on having fun and enjoying ourselves, and by fully expressing ourselves on the field, we hope to inspire others," said Black Ferns midfielder Theresa Fitzpatrick.

The research, which looks at the importance of Rugby World Cups to New Zealanders, shows although survey respondents assumed a lower level of national interest in the women’s Rugby World Cup compared to the men's, the difference was now less than 10 percent.

But the preliminary results also show the personal importance of the Black Ferns winning on Saturday is higher (63 percent) than for the 2011 All Blacks in their final on home soil against the French (52 percent).

"I don't think I've ever felt that there's been so much support for the Black Ferns and the wahine that are playing, and we know that it's just the beginning," said Fitzpatrick. 

Australia initially outbid New Zealand to host this year's World Cup, until NZ Rugby's pledge to supercharge the women's game saw it secured in Aotearoa.

And the tournament's certainly done that.

"It's not just a World Cup final, it's the game how much it's grown - from the start of the tournament to where we are now," said prop Amy Rule.

A sold-out final this weekend could be the next milestone for the women's game.

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