England were able to claw their way back from the jaws of defeat after trailing 16-0 at half-time, but their three unanswered tries in the second-half weren’t enough as Te Amohaere Ngata-Aerengamate crossed with just 30 seconds remaining to give the Cook Islands their first victory of the tournament.
Chantelle Inangaro Schofield had a brilliant game as she ran for over 200 metres and crossed for a try, while Amy Hardcastle was a shining light in a losing side.
England got off to a flying start with back-rower Shoan Boyle bursting onto a short ball and racing through the middle-third, however her offload couldn’t be contained by her players in support.
Despite the strong start, Cook Islands earned themselves first points of the contest after winger Beniamina Koiatu finished off a short-side raid with an athletic finish in the left-hand corner.
Although both teams were battling fiercely for valuable field position, the Cook Islands had the perfect chance to claim back-to-back tries with an array of attacking raids on the opposition goal-line, but the scrambling defence of England was unable to be broken.
The Cook Island responded with some brutal defensive efforts that forced an array of handling errors from England but failed to extend their lead with some costly mistakes of their own.
Elusive fullback Kiana Takaraingi was enjoying a promising first-half with some evasive carries from her own end, but was struck with an ankle injury in a brutal blow for the Cook Islands.
Despite losing a crucial attacking weapon, the Cook Islands found another four-pointer with hooker Katelyn Arona barging her way over from close range.
Schofield converted from in-front to take a 10-0 lead with just 10 minutes remaining in the first-half.
With a wave of momentum behind them, Cook Islands were relentless in their first-half onslaught with a left-to-right shift resulting in their third unanswered try to Cecelia Strickland.
Although earning their own chances to finish the first-half strongly, ill-discipline was England’s biggest enemy and eventually trailed 16-o at half-time.
The half-time message from head-coach Chris Chapman seemed to spark some life into his struggling side, with England capitalising on their first real chance through the hard-running Emma Slowe who crashed her way over the their first try of the afternoon.
Claire Garner converted to reduce the lead to two after 50 minutes of play.
Brimming with a new-found confidence, England forced another Cook Islands error which led to Hardcastle bursting through some flimsy defence from the ensuing scrum for a much-needed try.
Garner again converted to set the score at 16-12 with 25 minutes remaining.
Hardcastle attempted to inspire her team with a brilliant run down the right-hand side after barging off a host of defenders, but the Cook Islands defence held their own and were able to force her into touch.
England were desperately fighting to level the scores as they continuously peppered the Cook Islands goal-line, and they looked to have scored the crucial try but the video referee couldn’t find sufficient evidence to confirm the grounding.
They earned a quick reprieve with a repeat set to salvage a last-gasp try but couldn’t maintain possession with another unforced error.
Despite a victory looking more and more unlikely, a perfect last tackle grubber from Faye Gaskin landed in the arms of Kayleigh Bulamn who miraculously stayed in the field of play o plant the ball down in the left-hand corner.
Garner was unable to nail the sideline conversion with the scores leveleld at 16-all with just three minutes remaining in the contest.
With a draw the likely result, the Cook Islands pulled off the impossible with a break down the right-hand side giving them valuable field position, before a series of offloads found Te Amohaere Ngata-Aerengamate who snuck her way over for the match-winning try and claim a remarkable 22-16 victory.