In an astonishing, pulsating to and fro encounter, fittingly held on Guy Fawkes night, the Black Ferns just did enough under pressure to hold off France at the death after Les Bleues had the edge in the first spell. It is the Black Ferns’ 11th consecutive victory this year.
France No 10 Caroline Drouin had the chance to win it for her team in the 80th minute but her shot went wide and the home side was able to clear its lines.
The Black Ferns pack, led by hooker Georgia Ponsonby, prop Pip Love, lock Maia Ross and the tireless Sarah Hirini, rolled its sleeves up and powered through the work. Theresa Fitzpatrick was the pick of the backline, which could not always find its fluency or the correct options under some heavy defence.
France, too, was strong in the pack and savvy in the backs, the initiative going back and forth.
After a stirring rendition of the haka, the Black Ferns could make little headway in the face of some bruising and double-teaming defence.
Drouin opened the scoring with a penalty goal, and Les Bleues were able to shut down the Black Ferns’ offloading game. In turn, the Black Ferns were unable to make inroads from the pick and go and their kicking game was not long enough to really pressure the French.
France opted to turn down shots at goal to launch their lineout drives, but the first try went to impressive No 8 Romane Menager, back from injury, who dived over close to the uprights.
A dangerous tackle on Ruby Tui was penalised but not carded by referee Joy Neville.
The Black Ferns had a couple of chances in the first half, both involving the dynamic Roos, but she was not able to link up on the first one and was held up over the line on the second.
It was not until 35 minutes that the Black Ferns crossed for their first try, and it was a slick piece of play from Kendra Cocksedge, who tapped quickly, fed Ruahei Demant, who fired out a pinpoint long ball to centre Stacey Fluhler for her first try of the tournament.
The Black Ferns would have felt they were back in the contest, so it was a hammer blow when No 12 for Les Bleues, Gabrielle Vernier, crossed on the stroke of halftime.
Buoyed by its bench and upping the tempo which was, as ever, dictated by halfback Cocksedge, the Black Ferns roared back into the contest, scoring 15 unanswered points.
Tui latched into a Renee Holmes grubber to do down just inside the dead ball line, while Fitzpatrick scored after a lineout drive. At 22-17, the Black Ferns had taken the lead for the first time in the game.
France stormed back to make it 25-24 when Menager crossed for her second off a powerful carry. The drama did not stop there. There were two yellow cards, to France replacement lock Safi N’Diaye and Black Ferns tighthead sub Santo Taumata, both for accidental head clashes.
In the first semifinal, England subdued a fierce challenge by Canada, taking an intense contest 26-19, but lost star fullback Helena Rowland to a leg injury and was fully extended by a determined Canadian forward pack, marshalled by inspirational captain Sophie de Goede.
Black Ferns 25 (Stacey Fluhler, Ruby Tui, Theresa Fitzpatrick tries; Renee Holmes con, pen, Ruahei Demant con, pen) France 24 (Romane Menager 2, Gabrielle Vernier tries; Caroline Drouin 3 con, pen) HT: 17-10 France