PARIS (AFP) - England ended a run of three straight final defeats with a 21-9 victory over Canada to be crowned women's World Cup champions on Sunday.
The Red Roses, also champions in 1994, were beaten by New Zealand in the finals of the last three tournaments (2002, 2006, 2010). The Black Ferns missed out on this year's showdown after a shock defeat by Ireland in the pool stages.
With abbreviated rugby sevens to make its Olympic debut for men and women at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 15-a-side final was perfect publicity for the sport's world governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB).
In front of a near-capacity 20,000 crowd at Stade Jean Bouin, home to Top 14 club Stade Francais in western Paris, the two sides produced a game that, while perhaps not at its flowing best, featured no little skill, unabashed hard-nosed aggression and tactical nous.
England, however, will be left pondering how they didn't put the game out of Canada's grasp after building up an 11-0 lead and completely dominating possession and territory in the first half.
The Canadians, appearing in the final for the first time, proved to be doughty opponents whose confidence grew as their pack pressed for set-piece dominance.
But out of nothing, outstanding centre Emily Scarratt jinked her way out of a weak couple of tackles and skipped away for a try she converted to put England out of danger with seven minutes of the game remaining.
"We've worked hard for this, so many legends have gone before us who haven't won and that's about them today," England captain Katy McLean said.
"It's about the whole rugby family. We had to work hard today. Canada were fantastic and it's absolutely amazing that we did it."
Canada captain Kelly Russell added: "It was a big, physical game from both sides.
"It's been a great ride. The fans have been phenomenal. You can just tell women's rugby is huge here."
- Tight period -
It was Scarratt who had got the scoreboard ticking with a 11th minute penalty after a tight opening period.
Katherine Merchant then had two clear chances, the first thwarted by a fantastic tackle by Canada flanker Karen Paquin, the second time the winger knocking on with the line beckoning.
Livewire scrum-half Natasha Hunt was then denied a try by the video referee, Paquin again on hand with the crucial tackle, but English pressure mounted and Scarratt added a second penalty soon after.
With Canada looking distinctly leaden-footed in defence, full-back Danielle Waterman crossed for the first try of the match after 33 minutes following a show-and-go by lock Tamara Taylor and good hands in midfield by Margaret Alphonsi.
Against the flow of play, a rare Canadian sortie into the English 22m area saw Marlie Packer stray offside, and Harvey kicked the penalty on the stroke of half-time.
The winger got a second penalty early in the second period as the momentum swung Canada's way, with some unforced handling errors working their way into England's game.
Harvey then nailed her third penalty as Packer was blown up for hauling down a powerful rolling maul to bring her team right back into contention.
Scarratt responded almost immediately with her third penalty to restore England's five-point lead.
The centre then put the match beyond doubt when she jinked over and kicked the extras to ensure England ditched their tag of perpetual bridesmaids in World Cup finals.
In an entertaining match for third place, Grand Slam champions France outgunned Ireland to run out worthy 25-18 winners.
Ireland's stand-out full-back Niamh Briggs opened the scoring with a try she also converted. The French responded with a pushover try from skipper Gaelle Mignot converted by Sandrine Agricole.
Briggs briefly restored Ireland's lead with a penalty before full-back Jessy Tremouliere scored the home side's second try, centre Grace Davitt getting one back for Ireland for a 15-12 half-time lead.
France winger Elodie Guiglion then scored a second-half brace of tries either side of penalties by Tremouliere and Briggs to ensure a fifth third-placed finish in seven World Cups for the French.