Rugby World Cup: Favourites England hold professional edge over final rivals Black Ferns

With the last remaining tickets to Saturday's Rugby World Cup final snapped up within minutes, the Black Ferns undoubtedly have the crowd advantage - but that's not the only aspect setting them apart from pre-tournament favourites England.

The 'Red Roses' have been a fully professional women's rugby team for close to four years now and one expert says that could be the difference this weekend.

They were the first women's team to go fully pro back in 2019 and and the Rugby Football Union has pumped millions into the programme ever since.

"The support we've got now is incredible," said England coach Simon Middleton. "If you're going to be a high-performing sport, you need high-performing support and that's what we've got." 

The results speak for themselves - the side haven't lost since July 2019 and they're heading to the final unbeaten in 30 tests, since that defeat to New Zealand at San Diego.

"They're potentially the best women's rugby team of all time... the best rugby team of all time," offered Black Ferns assistant coach Wes Clarke.

Compare that to the Black Ferns, who are still trying to forge their way into the professional era. New contracts in Februrary saw thes take a step closer to that dream, with about 30 players receiving a boost in salary.

Will it make a difference on Saturday night? Former Ferns coach Glenn Moore wouldn't have thought so.

"In 2017, Glenn Moore said professionalism isn't about money, it's about your attitude towards it," said Middleton. "So they're as pro as we are and the best team will win."

But Otago University sports sociology professor Steve Jackson says England certainly have the advantage.

England celebrate a try against Canada in the semi-final
England celebrate a try against Canada in the semi-final. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Historically, teams that have greater investment, greater media coverage and sponsors, chances are they're going to be more successful," he said.

But in sport anything can happen and Black Ferns flanker Sarah Hirini is more than up for the challenge. 

"I'm not taking anything way from that they're professional," she said. "They deserve to be there and it's great for our sport."

Said Middleton: "Hopefully, off the back of this event, more unions will back their players, because you saw the level of commitment and performance for those two semi-finals and that's what you want - competition after competition in the women's game." 

The game continues to spearhead the growth of women's sport.

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join Newshub at 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v England final