England made it 30 test wins in a row, but they were made to fight all the way at Eden Park in Auckland by Canada in this brilliant Rugby World Cup 2021 semi-final.
Sarah Hunter’s side went into the last four encounter as favourites, but Canada gave her charges a big scare before England eventually came out on top 26-19.
England took the lead in the ninth minute when openside flanker Marlie Packer, who had scored a hat-trick of tries in the quarter-final triumph over Australia, bagged another one after a strong lineout drive. Centre Emily Scarratt converted and it was 7-0.
Six minutes later England scored their second try of the day and it was set up by full-back Helena Rowland.
Her purposeful run had the Canada defence on the back foot and she fed winger Abby Dow who did the rest. It was unconverted, but after a quarter of an hour England were in control.
Canada needed something to spark life into their performance and it came in the 22nd minute when a good run and kick through by scrum-half Justine Pelletier was pounced upon by openside flanker Karen Paquin.
Like Packer for England, she was a standout in Canada’s quarter-final win over USA and she showed good pace here to get to the ball first and score an unconverted try.
That breakthrough gave Canada confidence and they levelled things up at 12-12 five minutes before the break.
A number of carries by the forwards sucked in the England defence and when the ball was floated wide to centre Alysha Corrigan she went over for a try from short range. Captain Sophie de Goede converted and it was 12-12.
Just before half-time, England reset and gave themselves a 15-12 lead thanks to a penalty from Scarratt.
Scarratt kicked her second penalty of the match three minutes into the second half before England lost the influential Rowland to injury.
Canada then pressured as they looked for their third try, but England then turned defence into attack.
They turned the ball over on their own try-line and a brilliant open-field break by Claudia MacDonald set up her fellow winger Dow.
Dow had a lot to do, but she showed great pace and awareness to beat off the attentions of Canada winger Paige Farries to score a wonderful long range try. Scarratt could not convert and it was 23-12.
Any thoughts that the try would knock the stuffing out of Canada were put to bed before the hour mark when they got right back down the other end and won a series of penalties.
After one penalty too many, England loose-head Vickii Cornborough was yellow-carded by referee Aimee Barrett-Theron.
Crucially for the shorthanded side they managed to get through the 10 minutes when their front-row was off the pitch without conceding a point.
They could not score against 14 players, but Canada did so against 15 in the 67th minute.
It was replacement Tyson Beukeboom who went over for a try from close range and when De Goede converted from in front of the posts it was 23-19.
England were a bit rattled, but they were handed a nerve-settler with a penalty from Scarratt in the 70th minute which put them 26-19 up.
The Red Roses managed the last 10 minutes to make sure they reached a sixth successive Rugby World Cup final.
England captain Hunter said: “I am so proud of the way the team dug in to get through.
“Credit to Canada, they were relentless and kept coming at us, but the girls put their bodies on the line and showed what it means to us to get to the final.”
Canada will now play in the bronze final next weekend and their captain De Goede said: “We are very disappointed, we wanted to win the game, but I certainly cannot fault the effort of my players.”