You could almost hear the sigh of relief from her English teammates as Emily Scarratt broke through one tackle, evaded another and touched down in the corner of Canada's end zone.

After having to fight for every inch against a resilient Canadian team, England needed a stellar solo effort from its star centre to cement a 21-9 win over Canada in the women's rugby World Cup final.

Scarratt scored 16 points on Sunday, including 10 straight to close the gold-medal game, as England won its second World Cup and its first in 20 years.

After England dominated in the first half, Canada closed to within two points on a Magali Harvey penalty halfway through the second. But Scarratt kicked a penalty of her own a minute later, then capped the scoring with a try six minutes from the end of regulation.

"We had a couple of opportunities to score tries that could have made a difference, but because we didn't then they were full of confidence and more physical and fresher than us," Canada coach Francois Ratier said.

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Canada's players react after losing the women's rugby World Cup final match between England and Canada in Paris on Sunday. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

"When you have two opportunities and you don't score, then it's almost impossible. It's not a question of passion or heart. It's just a question of in the final of any sport, if you don't score when you have the opportunities, then the other team will take them."

Scarratt received the ball from a lineout and ran past Mandy Marchak, fended off fullback Julianne Zussman and ran the ball in to give England some much needed breathing room. She kicked a conversion to cap a spectacular tournament for the England centre.

Major success for Canada

It was Canada's first appearance in the World Cup final. Its previous best finish was fourth, which it did in three consecutive tournaments from 1998 to 2006. England, meanwhile, ended 16 years of heartache by finally winning it after finishing as runner-up to New Zealand in the last three tournaments.

Harvey was named the IRB women's player of the year after the game. Canadian captain Kelly Russell was also a finalist for the award.

Canada had trouble getting into England's zone and it proved costly when Danielle Waterman capped a series of crisp passes and scored the game's first try at the 33 minute mark. Scarratt missed the convert as England went up 11-0.

"We were not able to match physically. At times we were dominant but they were more consistent," Ratier said.

"They won some balls and we were not able to attack on the outside. We tried, but they were just better at defence."

Harvey's scoring, including an incredible try against France where she ran the length of the field, has made her the breakout star of the Canadian team. Ratier said while she is a good teammate and a good player, she is still only one part of the team.

"She's a winger, so she scores tries because it's her job," Ratier said. "She's the first to get a bit annoyed when she's made out to be the star of the team, because she doesn't feel like that at all."

But Ratier sees the value of having someone like Harvey become the face of the team, especially for a sport like women's rugby which is still finding a foothold in the Canadian sports landscape.

"It's good for visibility, it's good for marketing, it's good for promotion of the sport, it's good for the image big time," he said.