The Red Roses lost 32-41 to New Zealand in the Women’s Rugby World Cup final at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
Selica Winiata’s try after eight minutes gave the Black Ferns the lead but England were on the scoreboard through Emily Scarratt’s penalty.
After Black Ferns flanker Sarah Goss was sent to the sin bin for her tackle on Katy Mclean, England took full advantage and got their first try from a five metre scrum when the referee awarded a penalty try.
A Rachael Burford break eventually set up Lydia Thompson who finished out wide, but Toka Natua’s score for the Kiwis meant a 17-10 half-time lead for the Red Roses .
Natua’s second levelled the game up before another Scarratt penalty edged England ahead, but Charmaine Smith’s try pushed the Black Ferns in front again.
Thompson’s stunning second score, when she raced in down the right touchline, restored England’s lead but the New Zealand prop Natua got her hat-trick, and then Kendra Cocksedge and a second from Winiata secured the win and their fifth Women’s Rugby World Cup title, despite Izzy Noel-Smith’s late score for the Red Roses.
England Women head coach Simon Middleton said: “I couldn’t be prouder as the girls gave everything they could. There was no shortage of heart, energy and passion.
“We just couldn’t get enough possession in the second-half to be able to turn the game how we wanted.
“We’ve had a fantastic year with the things we achieved, we pulled up short tonight but we’ve been everywhere and played everyone and until tonight we’ve been successful.
“I thought it was an amazing occasion for the game with the energy in the stadium and it was fantastic game for the spectators to watch”
England Women captain Sarah Hunter added: “The score line suggests a fantastic game of rugby; I’m not sure a Women’s Rugby World Cup final has seen a score like that before.
“We came here with one goal and we have just pulled up a little bit short and fair play to New Zealand they really took it to us.
“Rugby is a really hard game to play without the ball and in that second-half we did not have the ball; that was partly our fault and partly the pressure they put on us.
“Gutted is an understatement but we will move on from this.
“The support back home has been phenomenal and I can’t thank people enough.”
England Women match day 23
15. Emily Scarratt (Lichfield, 74 caps)
14. Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 38 caps)
13. Megan Jones (Bristol, 9 caps)
12. Rachael Burford (Harlequins Ladies, 72 caps)
11. Kay Wilson (Richmond, 49 caps)
10. Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 91 caps)
9. Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 41 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Ladies, 31 caps)
2. Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 33 caps)
3. Sarah Bern (Bristol, 15 caps)
4. Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 21 caps)
5. Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 109 caps)
6. Alex Matthews (Richmond, 37 caps)
7. Marlie Packer (Bristol, 51 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (Bristol, 98 caps) (C)
16. Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 65 caps)
17. Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 129 caps)
18. Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 27 caps)
19. Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 51 caps)
20. Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 36 caps)
21. La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 70 caps)
22. Amber Reed (Bristol, 44 caps)
23. Amy Wilson Hardy (Bristol, 10 caps)
Women’s Rugby World Cup schedule
England 56-5 Spain – Pool B
Wednesday 9 August, UCD Bowl, Dublin
England 56-13 Italy – Pool B
Sunday 13 August, Billings Park UCD, Dublin
England 46-26 USA – Pool B
Thursday 17 August, Billings Park UCD, Dublin
England 20-3 France – Women’s Rugby World Cup semi-final
Tuesday 20 August, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
England 32-41 New Zealand – Women’s Rugby World Cup final
Saturday 26 August, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast