Holders England booked a Women’s Rugby World Cup final appointment with New Zealand after beating France 20-3 in Belfast.

Prop Sarah Bern and substitute back Megan Jones scored second-half tries during an absorbing defence-dominated contest at Kingspan Stadium.

Centre Emily Scarratt, who was the star of the show when England defeated Canada to be crowned world champions in Paris three years ago, kicked two penalties and two conversions, setting up a mouthwatering showdown against the Black Ferns in four days’ time.

New Zealand, recently installed as the world-ranked number one team, secured their place in the final by brushing aside the United States 45-12, yet England toppled them when the countries last met two months ago.

France dominated large periods of the semi-final’s opening 40 minutes, yet they floundered on a magnificent England defence that time and time again denied their opponents.

England showed only occasional glimpses of their attacking capability – and they will have to go up a gear in that department against four-time World Cup winners New Zealand – but it was a case of mission accomplished for the Red Roses.

England made two changes from the side that secured a third-successive pool victory by seeing off the United States, with fit-again wing Lydia Thompson returning to action and centre Rachel Burford partnering Scarratt in midfield.

But France, having ended host nation Ireland’s semi-final hopes last Thursday, blasted out of the blocks and put England’s defence under immediate pressure.

The collective English rearguard was such that they completed 51 tackles during the first 12 minutes, with flanker Marlie Packer in destructive defensive form as they battled to contain a French side possessing powerful runners in lock Lenaig Corson and number eight Safi N’Diaye.

England, though, took a 17th-minute lead when Scarratt, whose goalkicking had been under the microscope in the tournament, landed a short-range penalty, leaving the French to engage in a collective bout of head-scratching that they had fallen behind.

England then lost full-back Danielle Waterman for a head injury assessment – Jones replaced her – and the French drew level just before half-time through a penalty from their London-born wing Shannon Izar.

Packer, meanwhile, continued in dominant defensive mode, making 14 tackles during the opening period, and the teams trooped off all square at 3-3.

Waterman did not appear for the second period, but England were quickly on the attack and they created a try-scoring chance when Scarratt broke clear, but possession agonisingly eluded wing Kay Wilson and France survived.

England, though, kept their opponents pinned back, and it took some superb French defence to deny them after 20 phases of forward-dominated attacking, before a penalty was awarded for offside and Scarratt landed her second-successful kick.

Scarratt then missed a chance to complete her penalty hat-trick, yet England only had to wait another two minutes to finally break down French resistance, and it was Bristol forward Bern who crashed over from close range for a try that Scarrett converted, opening up a 10-point lead.

Jones then completed a brilliant try-saving tackle on France flanker Julie Annery, which underlined England’s spirit and resilience, and underpinned their place in the final, which Jones sealed by touching down during injury time.