JOANNE Watmore, the Worcester centre, was England’s hero as they secured a series-clinching 17-8 victory over world champions New Zealand in Aldershot.
Watmore scorched over for the all-important try to give England some breathing space in a tight and nervy clash with the Black Ferns.
Tries from flanker Hannah Gallagher and Watmore, as well as seven points from the boot of full-back Emily Scarratt, sealed the win, which was England’s second in four days against their southern hemisphere rivals and gave Gary Street’s side an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series ahead of Saturday’s finale at Twickenham.
England didn’t do it the easy way, though, and were twice reduced to 14 women, first when try-scorer Gallagher was sent to the sin-bin after 65 minutes and then again in the dying moments when Katy McLean was given her marching orders.
While Watmore started the game, she was well supported by her Worcester team-mates props Rochelle Clark and Laura Keates and centre Ceri Large, who all made an impact from the bench.
Things started well for the home side and, after an early spell of sustained pressure, England put points on the board when Scarratt slotted over a penalty in front of the posts.
New Zealand hit back five minutes later with the game’s opening try — smart play from the Kiwi backs freed up wing Shakira Baker to dive over in the corner to make it 5-3.
Despite the setback, England lost none of their attacking nous and continued to put pressure on the Black Ferns.
The breakthrough came after 20 minutes when fly-half Alice Richardson weaved between three defenders before off-loading to Gallagher to score. Scarratt added the extras to give England a five-point cushion.
Scrum-half Natasha Hunt was a constant thorn in New Zealand’s side and continued to cause problems into the second period, but it was the visitors who got the first points of the half.
Centre Kelly Brazier kicked a deserved penalty to reduce the deficit to two.
As Street began to ring the changes, Scarratt had the chance to extend the lead back out to five, but her kick sailed just wide of the posts.
Then with Gallagher in the sin-bin, England found a second wind and Watmore showed a good burst of pace to run through and touch down.
Scarratt’s conversion gave England a nine-point lead which New Zealand could not dent.