Black Ferns into Women's Rugby World Cup final as Portia Woodman tramples USA with four-try effort
Fiao'o Faamausili relishes having Portia Woodman in her side but the Black Ferns captain stops short of giving the try-scoring machine all the credit.
After grabbing headlines with a remarkable eight-try effort in an earlier thrashing of Hong Kong, brilliant wing Woodman dotted down four times as New Zealand prevailed 45-12 over the USA in the semifinals of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Belfast on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ time).
The pacy and powerful No 14 produced a stunning solo effort in a hotly contested first half, before adding three more as the four-time champions eventually shook off a physical American outfit in the second spell and powered away.
The Black Ferns will face England in Sunday's tournament decider after the defending champions proved more effective in the wet conditions to grind out a 20-3 victory over France in the second semifinal at the same venue.
New Zealand were beaten 29-21 when they last faced England in Rotorua in June.
Asked after the match about another try-laden outing from Woodman, who took her tournament tally to 13 in four games, Faamausili dispersed her praise.
"She (Woodman) loves scoring tries and she's the best one to do it out wide but full credit to our forwards," said the hooker who was part of that strong display from the front eight.
"They really did the work up front to give our backs some good go forward ball."
Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore had named an unchanged starting side for the first meeting between the two teams in more than two years.
It was hardly a shock move given how his side had dispatched Canada 48-5 in their final pool outing, after also thumping of Hong Kong (121-0) and Wales (44-12).
Carrying that momentum, New Zealand needed less than four minutes to stretch the USA defence and open the space for Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali to score the first try of the match.
The Black Ferns went close moments later after the first five-eighth laid on a pinpoint but the Americans snaffled the turnover, worked their way out of trouble and soon struck back.
A strong and quick back three were always the big threat for the USA and on 16 minutes right wing Naya Tapper splintered the Kiwi defence, allowing fullback Cheta Emba to free left wing Kris Thomas for a 20 metre run to the line.
Alev Kelter's conversion put the Americans in front but not for long as a Kendra Cocksedge penalty made it 8-7 before Woodman firmly stamped her mark.
Hitting the ball at speed from a scrum 40m out, the Black Ferns wing burst through the first two defenders before palming off a third and diving over under the posts.
New Zealand also showed their mettle on defence, withstanding a barrage of pressure to close out the first half, and it wasn't long after the resumption when that resilience paid off.
Experienced second five-eighth Kelly Brazier showed her class with a clever kick through, fullback Selica Winiata scooping the ball up smartly and flicking the ball to Woodman, who was never going to be stopped from close range.
Another Cocksedge penalty moved New Zealand further away on 55 minutes, the task became even more challenging for the Americans as the buffer went beyond two converted tries.
There was a brief glimmer of hope when Kelter showed pace and strength to score from 45m out but, helped by more dominant work from the Kiwi forwards and slick skills from those inside her, Woodman soon extinguished that.
The 26-year-old Aucklander clinically finished movements in the 62nd and 72nd minutes to effectively seal New Zealand's spot in the final, replacement hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and Brazier adding the icing on the cake in the dying stages.
"It's taken a lot of hard work by the girls, we're just so excited we're in the final," Faamausili said.
"Full credit to our supporters, and to the USA team, they kept battling right to the 80th minute and we have a lot of respect for them.
"The girls had to dig deep. We've been training hard throughout the week, our preparation has been on point and I couldn't be any prouder of way girls played today."
The tournament final is set for 6.45am on Sunday (NZ time) and will also be played in Belfast.
New Zealand 45 (Portia Woodman 4, Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, Kelly Brazier tries, Kendra Cocksedge 2 con, 2 pen) USA 12 (Kris Thomas, Alev Kelter tries, Kelter con). HT: 15-7.