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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: England

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: England

We run the rule over defending champions England in the second of our Women’s World Rugby Cup 2017 team profiles. Will a move to professionalism and a Six Nations Grand Slam inspire more global success for the Red Roses?

ENGLAND

Head Coach: Simon Middleton
Team Captain: Sarah Hunter
Women’s Rugby World Cup Record: 1991 (Runners-up), 1994 (Champions), 1998 (3rd), 2002 (Runners-up), 2006 (Runners-up), 2010 (Runners-up), 2014 (Champions)
Current World Ranking: 2nd

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WRWC 2017 Fixtures:

Pool B –

England v Spain, UCD Bowl, 2pm, Wednesday, August 9
England v Italy, Billings Park, UCD, 2.30pm, Sunday, August 13
England v USA, Billings Park, UCD, 2.30pm, Thursday, August 17

Play-Offs –

Semi-Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Tuesday, August 22
Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Saturday, August 26

Best WRWC Moment: It has to be recapturing the World Cup trophy in France three years ago after three successive runners-up finishes behind ‘bogey team’ New Zealand (2002, 2006 and 2010). England saved their best for the play-offs in 2014, dominating Ireland 40-7 in the semi-final before overcoming Canada 21-9 in the decider with the tournament’s top scorer Emily Scarratt on song with 16 points.

Soundbites: Sarah Hunter – “This summer’s World Cup will probably been the toughest there’s ever been. We’ve seen the standard of Women’s rugby skyrocket over the last 18 months. It won’t be just about retaining that trophy, it will be about going and winning it because every other team will be wanting to do the same thing.

“It sounds a bit cliched, but our pool opponents in Ireland all pose their different challenges and we will face them and take them on in their own merits. It’s all about one game at a time in tournament rugby. It’s the pool stages and it’s all about getting out of that pool before we hopefully take on the next rounds.”

Simon Middleton – “With the World Cup just around the corner, this month’s International Series in New Zealand provides an excellent opportunity for us to test ourselves in an unfamiliar environment, against some of the leading teams in the world. The tight turnaround of games replicates the World Cup schedule, and we expect to encounter a great atmosphere in New Zealand, which will provide players with the best possible preparation for Ireland in August.

“The squad’s been training together for the last six weeks and, while it will be important to get the travel out of their legs on arrival in time for the first game (on June 9), I’m looking forward to seeing players translate their hard work in training into first class performances on the pitch.”

Did You Know?: England’s pool opener in Dublin against Spain will bring back memories of their first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup match, way back in April 1991. Spain were also the opposition back then, the English side triumphing 12-0 in Swansea with the trailblazing Gill Burns one of their try scorers.

Team Profile: When England number 8 and captain Sarah Hunter lifted the Six Nations trophy at Donnybrook on St. Patrick’s Day, she spoke of her excitement about ‘pushing on from here’ and how far this team can go. That tells you all you need to know about the motivation to hold onto their World Cup crown this year.

England’s first Grand Slam since 2012 was an important box ticked, a big statement of intent to their European rivals and those further afield, and their second half dismantling of Ireland in that 34-7 final round victory gives them plenty of confidence for their return to Dublin in two months’ time.

Before then, Simon Middleton’s charges have an intriguing set of warm-up fixtures to negotiate. This month’s International Women’s Series, which is being held in New Zealand between June 9 and 17, has drawn together the world’s three top-ranked sides – New Zealand, England and Canada – as well as sixth-placed Australia.

While the coaches will not want to play their full hand down South, the games should give a good indication of the pecking order as the Women’s World Cup draws ever closer. The most anticipated clash is between New Zealand and England in Rotorua which will act as a curtain raiser to the British & Irish Lions’ meeting with the Maori All Blacks. Bookmakers currently have the Black Ferns and Red Roses as 11/10 joint favourites to win the World Cup.

Hunter and her team-mates, who now operate as part of a fully professional squad, will be fiercely determined to get one over on the New Zealanders and lay down another marker, especially after the Black Ferns won 25-20 at the Twickenham Stoop last November – a result which cemented their position at the top of the World Rugby Rankings.

The landscape for the Red Roses has certainly changed for the better since their 2014 World Cup heroics, the most significant boost being the RFU’s awarding last September of the first ever 15-a-side professional contracts. England’s 54-player ‘elite playing squad’, who train primarily at Bisham Abbey, is split into full-time, part-time, short-term and non-contracted players with 38 contracts awarded to date.

Hunter, the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in 2016, continues to lead by example as part of a formidable English pack which includes Test centurions Rochelle Clark, who has overtaken Jason Leonard as English rugby’s most-capped international of all-time, and Tamara Taylor, as well as ace openside poacher Marlie Packer. However, the injury-enforced loss of experienced prop Laura Keates is a blow.

Taylor’s second row partner Harriet Millar-Mills is in a rich vein of form as is fleet-footed winger Kay Wilson, who ran in a record seven tries against Scotland, while goal-kicking centre Emily Scarratt’s combination of power, pace and silky skills make her the one to watch in a classy back-line anchored by ever-threatening full-back Danielle Waterman. Former skipper Katy Mclean remains a key player, as evidenced by her impact off the bench during last November’s narrow 12-10 win over Ireland at UCD.

With the short trip across the Irish Sea, England are sure to be well supported in both Dublin and Belfast. Their attempts to repeat their World Cup success from 2014 will be aided by the fact that 15 medal winners from France are in the current squad, adding plenty of big-game experience and tournament nous.

Middleton, who was England’s backs coach for the last World Cup, has carried on Gary Street’s sterling work and is steering the ship in the right direction. If his players can marry the accuracy and intensity they showed most recently against Ireland, then they should emerge as the team to beat come late August. #BringIt

For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.

ENGLAND INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S SERIES Squad: Sarah Bern (Bristol), Emily Braund (Lichfield), Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries), Amy Cokayne (Lichfield), Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens), Sarah Hunter (Bristol) (capt), Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Justine Lucas (Lichfield), Alex Matthews (Richmond), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield), Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol), Marlie Packer (Bristol), Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), Megan Jones (Bristol), La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Sarah McKenna (Saracens), Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Amber Reed (Bristol), Leanne Riley (Aylesford Bulls), Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Emily Scott (Saracens), Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries), Danielle Waterman (Bristol), Kay Wilson (Richmond).

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: Ireland