In just a few days’ time 12 teams will lock horns, scrum down and kick for glory as they battle to win the eighth Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland.
With England (also known as the Red Roses) looking to retain the tournament they won in 2014, here is my guide as to why you should follow the latest instalment in the Emerald Isle between 9-26 August.
So, why should I be interested?
1) England have a superb chance of winning
2) It’s bloody brilliant to watch
You say it’s brilliant to watch, but surely it’s not going to be as good as seeing the men play?
We really need to stop comparing men and women when it comes to team sports. They are two completely different entities. The tactics, the style, the players, they’re all different. Of course there are going to be many things that are relevant for both genders but there’s no reason to compare them; they are different games.
Anyone who has spent time watching women’s rugby knows it’s fascinating, something this year’s Six Nations proved in abundance. It had literally everything, from routs to stunning comebacks to dramatic last-gasp victories with a host of superb attacking and defensive play in between.
And if you really do want to compare the two then, statistically, you are actually likely to see more tries scored in a game of women’s rugby. For example, at the last World Cup in 2014 there were 176 tries scored across 30 fixtures at an average of 5.87 per game. In comparison, the male event a year later saw 271 tries in 48 games at 5.65 per game. So there.
Ok ok, you made your point! But can England really win?
Yes. The Red Roses emphatically won their first Six Nations ‘Grand Slam’ since 2012 back in March before defeating Australia, Canada and New Zealand in June to move to the top of the world rankings for the first time. The squad has never looked stronger, their attacking threat never greater, their confidence never higher.
That’s all well and good but can they perform under pressure when it really counts?
A very good point – we’ll just have to wait and see until the tournament kicks off. But there’s no reason why they can’t. They have certainly proved in the last few months that they can cope when under the cosh.
In the opening game of this year’s Six Nations they found themselves trailing 13-0 at half-time against France but came back to win 26-13. They also managed to beat New Zealand – long revered as the world’s best team – in sopping wet conditions in front of a pretty boisterous Rotorua crowd.
What’s more, this is the best prepared an England XV-a-side squad have ever been, having trained full-time since January this year. They know their game inside-out and will undoubtedly have prepared for every eventuality.
Which players should I look out for then?
I spoke to flanker Marlie Packer a few weeks ago and she said each member of the 28-strong squad is world-class; I couldn’t agree more. Has there ever been a more complete England team in any sport? I don’t think so. There are no weak links – every position has at least two players who could easily make the starting XV.
The forward pack has been very dominant recently, tearing many sides apart, and they are marshalled superbly by captain Sarah Hunter. A key member of the 2014 squad, Hunter has won 93 caps, scored 19 international tries and was named the 2016 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year.
And if they aren’t quite fully functioning then England also boast the most threatening backline in the game. Fly-half Katy McLean is a legend of the sport, Amy Wilson-Hardy is one of the most exciting new talents around and the back three of Lydia Thompson, Danielle Waterman and the superb Kay Wilson are fearsome.
But there is one person who makes them all tick and that’s Emily Scarratt. The hero of the 2014 final, the centre is a class above anyone else in the game. Her passing is exceptional and her kicking fantastic but – most importantly – she is incredibly intelligent, setting up and controlling every attacking move. If England retain their title, expect Scarratt to be the main reason for it.
What about the other teams and players?
New Zealand will be the main threat. They will be keen to exact revenge on England following their recent loss to the Red Roses and will look to the speedy Portia Woodman to lead their charge for a fifth World Cup success and their first since 2010.
Canada are also set to challenge and will certainly be using the pain of losing the 2014 final to spur them on to a first World Cup win. Winger Magali Harvey was their star of that tournament – scoring an outrageous 87m try against France before being subsequently named World Player of the Year – and will be a huge threat once again this time round.
It’s probably worth keeping an eye on 2016 Six Nations champions France as well. It’s always been a case of so-near-yet-so-far for them at the World Cup, having finished third on five separate occasions. Jade Le Pesq and Christelle Le Duff form one of the most impressive halfback combinations in the game and can pull any defence to pieces on their day.
That’s it, you’ve converted me! But where do I watch it?
Every single game is being broadcast live on ITV, with England’s first Pool B fixture against Spain starting at 14:00 on Wednesday 9 August. They then face Italy on Sunday 13 August at 14:30 and the USA on Thursday 17 August at 14:30, while the final will be on Saturday 26 August at 19:45.
Awesome! I’m so excited, can’t wait for it to get underway!