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England determined to go one better at Women's Rugby World Cup
While most tourists travel to France to take advantage of the constant sunshine in August, England have other things on their mind as they prepare for their seventh Women’s Rugby World Cup campaign, which starts on Friday.
England have lost the last three World Cup finals to New Zealand by margins of 10, eight and three points. And it hurts. However, 2014 is the year of change.
Captained by Katy Mclean, England start their tournament against Samoa on Friday at France’s National Centre for Rugby in Marcoussis, about 20 miles south of Paris.
Their record against the Black Ferns – the nickname of New Zealand’s women’s team – since their defeat in the 2010 World Cup final (a 13-10 loss at The Stoop) has been encouraging.
In nine matches, the women have won five, lost three and drawn one. All the games won were on home soil (as well as the draw) while all three defeats were during last year’s tour to New Zealand.
So to make the 2014 edition even more intriguing, it could be the first time the two teams meet on neutral soil since the 2006 World Cup final in Edmonton.
“When I went to my first tournament in Canada I just wanted to prove that England could do well but now I’ve been to two World Cup finals and missed out by small margins,” says flanker Maggie Alphonsi.
“I’m at the point where I’m sick and tired of being second best.
“I want to make sure we get to the final and win it this time – it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, I just want us to win it.”
The man in charge of England’s campaign is head coach Gary Street, who has guided his team to five successive Six Nations Championships, including four Grand Slams, since his appointment in 2007.
And momentum is very much in England’s favour.
Alphonsi, who has been backbone of the England side since making her debut in 2003, says this year’s preparations, with the squad being able to spend extended periods together in training camps, is vital to their chances of success.
“It’s been really good – intense, but really good,” says Alphonsi. “It’s great to have this time together as a team to develop new areas of our game and just generally get used to playing together again because during the season we don’t have much time together.”
The recent #carrythemhome campaign, which saw everyone from Prince Harry to Paloma Faith (not forgetting David Cameron, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Alan Shearer and Chris Robshaw) offering their support has been a massive boost to the squad.
“It all helps raise the awareness of the women’s game,” says Alphonsi. “The key thing is to get people to realise that a) women play rugby and b) there’s a huge event coming up in August and there’s a good chance we can win it.”
“New Zealand are obviously going to be a huge force but even just looking in our pool there are a few big threats,” says Alphonsi.
“The main one for us is Canada. As a nation they’ve improved massively, doing well in Seven Series tournaments so they’re a team we’ve got a lot of respect for.
“Samoa and Spain are very unpredictable sides but big and strong with physical runners so they’re going to be a challenge for us but you can’t count out the other teams in the tournament: France, Australia, USA and Ireland – there’s so many teams that can go out and win this World Cup.”
Maggie Alphonsi’s players to watch:
Emily Scarratt (England) She’s pretty unique in that she’s young and full of potential but also a veteran at the age of 24! She plays full-back or centre and is basically good at everything – she won the RPA Player of the Year award in 2013, she’s just a super-talented individual.
Kelly Russell (Canada) As a fellow back-rower, she’s is a player I’ve got a lot of respect for. She’s their captain from number eight and a talented player on the Sevens circuit; just a good all-round player who doesn’t make many mistakes.