England's players after their defeat

Auckland (AFP) - Captain Sarah Hunter called it “cruel” after England lost 34-31 to New Zealand in a dramatic women’s Rugby World Cup final on Saturday that ended their formidable winning run.

England had been on a record 30-Test winning streak but they couldn’t cap three years of dominance when it mattered most at Eden Park in Auckland.

“Sport can be so cruel at times. I’m so proud of the way this England team has shown up, not just tonight, but over the last three years,” the 37-year-old Hunter said.

“Hopefully one result doesn’t define the team, the individuals and the people they’ve become.

“We gave everything tonight and unfortunately it wasn’t enough to take that trophy back home.”

Hunter, who extended her world record for Test caps to 141, has fallen short in three of her four appearances in the final, also beaten previously by New Zealand in 2010 and 2017.

She tasted success in the 2014 tournament and had been confident England were equipped to topple their arch foes on New Zealand soil.

However, luck wasn’t with the veteran back-rower’s team.

Injuries to key players continued on the eve of the final when experienced scrumhalf Leanne Infante was ruled out with injury.

Reigning world player of the year, lock Zoe Aldcroft, was forced off midway through the first half with a head knock, not long after winger Lydia Thompson copped a red card for a high tackle.

With a sold-out 40,000 crowd roaring against her team, Hunter was proud they stayed in touch and almost grabbed victory in the dying moments.

“That’s just the strength in character that we’ve got. You know, when our backs are against the wall, we come out fighting and we did that.

“We couldn’t have done anything else tonight and I’ll be forever proud of the team and what we’ve achieved.

“It does hurt and it will hurt, but I’ve said that together as a team we have to share in that hurt.

“Tonight has been a showcase for women’s rugby and congratulations to New Zealand.”