Rugby World Cup: Black Ferns embrace moment as sold-out final against England looms

Black Ferns midfielder Theresa Fitzpatrick took a deep breath as she gathered her thoughts, reflecting on THAT moment during Saturday's semi-final against France.

With their World Cup destiny in the balance, French first-five Caroline Drouin lined up a penalty that would either make or break their tournament.

While Eden Park and the rest of the nation collectively held their breath, so did Fitzpatrick. 

"I just had my eyes on the posts," Fitzpatrick recalled. "Standing there telling myself 'whatever happens will happen'. Took a few deep breaths and just waited for her to kick it.

When the girls saw the ball go [wide] we thought 'this is our moment'. 'Look after the ball, treasure the ball' and we just went from there.

Meanwhile, prop Amy Rule delved into a zen-like state as she watched on from the bench.

"I had a weird sense of calmness throughout the whole game," said Rule. 

"With the scoreboard you'd think you'd be stressed but I was just sitting there calm thinking "I've got faith". I had this gut feeling which was really cool.

"When the kick didn't go over… it was like, words can't describe. I'm so proud of the girls…they held their heads so high."

You know the rest of the story by now. Drouin shanked the kick, the Black Ferns held on to the pill as though their lives depended on it for the remaining 30 second , before veteran Kendra Cocksedge slammed the ball into touch and executed a celebratory leap that rivalled Michael Jordan's iconic effort after his buzzer-beater to sink the Cavs back in 1989.

Kendra Cocksedge leaps in celebration on the fulltime whistle.
Kendra Cocksedge leaps in celebration on the fulltime whistle. Photo credit: Getty Images

Almost 48 hours later, the Black Ferns admitted they're still processing the "surreal" nature of the situation they find themselves in - poised to defend their World Cup crown in front of what will likely be a sold-out Eden Park on Saturday.

Although organisers are yet to officially declare the showpiece match a sell-out, they have stated ticket allocations are "exhausted", with World Rugby adding seating had been "entirely allocated".

The opening day of the tournament saw women's rugby record, with 34,235 people on hand to see the Black Ferns defeat the Wallabies in a triple-header that also featured entertainment from popstar Rita Ora.

The maximum number this weekend will be a touch over 40,000, with a section of the stadium allocated for a stage Kiwi singer Benee will grace at halftime.

Either way, it will be a significant increase from the approximately 23,000 who were on hand to witness the Black Ferns' 25-24 victory over Les Bleues last weekend, and will surely set a new high watermark for the women's game.

"This is a massive dream for all of us to be playing in a World Cup final at home," said Fitzpatrick. "I'm shaking thinking about it, that it's actually real.

"We've been putting in all of the hard work these past six weeks and now it's finally here. We know this week's gonna be another tough one physically and mentally.

"I think we do have to embrace it all, take it all in. Try not to play the game too early.

"It's the same game of rugby. There's going to be lots of eyes on us, but we know that we have to do the same job and play the same game and everything will just happen.

"We need to show up on Saturday and so we're hoping to make our nation proud and hopefully bring back the gold."

Standing in their way will be tournament favorites England, whose reputation precedes them. They may have been pushed to the limit in their semi-final against Canada on Saturday, but 30-straight test wins is still 30-straight test wins.

Funnily enough, the last game the Roses lost was against the Black Ferns, way back in July 2019, before COVID-19 was even a thing.

"I think we keep to our processes," noted Fitzpatrick, looking ahead to the final.  "We have a gameplan we know works, so we're focusing on that.

"We know we can only put our best foot forward. We know that it's going to be a really exciting game.

"We can't wait to take on England on Saturday and show our country and the world what we've got."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub from on Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v England final