Prop Toka Natua led the way, with a hat-trick of tries, while there were also tries for full-back Selica Winiata (two), lock Charmaine Smith and scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge, with Cocksedge adding three conversions.
Wing Lydia Thompson scored two tries for England, in addition to a seven-point penalty try, plus a late Izzy Noel-Smith touchdown, and full-back Emily Scarratt booted two penalties and two conversions, yet New Zealand were not to be denied a fifth world title.
“We dug deep,”Black Ferns captain Fiao’o Fa’amausili said said. “[England] really gave it to us in that first 15-20 minutes. But our girls showed the character in our team, the culture in our team and I could not be any prouder.”
England blasted out of the blocks, and free-scoring New Zealand were immediately forced into defensive mode.
But the Black Ferns struck from their first attack when fly-half Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali kicked cleverly into space and Winiata showed England’s defence a clean pair of heels for an opening try inside 10 minutes.
Scarratt suffered a knock in trying to stem the New Zealand tide, but she was okay to continue after treatment as England looked to assert themselves on the contest, and she opened England’s account with a 14th-minute penalty.
New Zealand were reduced to 14 players after flanker Sarah Goss was harshly yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on Mclean, and England, having dominated early territory, knew they needed to make that advantage count.
With England’s pack exerting sustained pressure near New Zealand’s line before referee Joy Neville awarded a penalty try, which meant the holders led 10-5.
The Black Ferns could not escape from England’s grasp, and the Red Roses struck again nine minutes before half-time when centre Rachael Burford broke through in midfield and Mclean sent Thompson over via a supremely timed pass.
Scarratt’s touchline conversion underlined England’s supremacy, and New Zealand had it all to do, with the final beginning to drift away from them.
They responded, though, right on cue, with Natua crashing over from close range and England’s advantage was trimmed to seven points at half-time, with the Red Roses leading 17-10.
And it got worse for England within five minutes of the restart, as New Zealand forward pressure resulted in a second try for Natua, with Cocksedge adding a conversion and the Black Ferns starting to enjoy considerable momentum.
A Scarratt penalty — via the post — put England back in front, yet it proved short-lived as New Zealand stormed back upfield and Smith touched down for her team’s fourth try, with Cocksedge adding the conversion for a 24-20 lead.
The game now had no pattern, and England went back in front when Thompson sprinted over from 40m, only for New Zealand to hit back as Natua completed her hat-trick and Cocksedge converted for a six-point lead.
Cocksedge then added a try, and England could find no way back, as New Zealand completed a famous victory..