Rarely, if ever, has a side gone into a World Cup in any sport such overwhelming favourites as England’s Red Roses in New Zealand. Below, we look at why that is ahead of the tournament starting this weekend…
England may not be defending world champions, having suffered a 41-32 defeat to the Black Ferns in the 2017 World Cup final in Belfast, but they couldn’t be more fancied.
Head coach Simon Middleton told media before the tournament: “We’ve got to win it. We’ve got the best strength in depth we’ve ever had. We’ve got everything at our disposal that we could want. We are as ready as we can be.”
England’s Rugby World Cup fixtures & tournament structure
|Saturday, October 8||England vs Fiji, Pool C||4.45am (GMT)|
|Saturday, October 15||England vs France, Pool C||8am (GMT)|
|Sunday, October 23||England vs South Africa||5.45am (GMT)|
|Saturday/Sunday, October 29/30||World Cup quarter-finals||4.30am/7.30am (GMT)/1.30am/3.30am (GMT)|
|Saturday, November 5||World Cup semi-finals||3.30am/6.30am (GMT)|
|Saturday, November 12||World Cup final||6.30am (GMT)|
Former England captain Maggie Alphonsi told Sky Sports earlier this week: “They are very much expected to win. Many of the players will be saying if they don’t win, it would be a failure.”
How often would such noises be made about a major team – and from the camp no less – just prior to a World Cup? Almost never.
Having missed out on the Six Nations title in 2018 to France, England set about a rebuild. And rebuild they have.
Every Six Nations title since then (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022) has gone to the Red Roses in emphatic fashion, while there has been no one in the world to touch them for over three years…
A world record run of victories breeds huge expectancy
Such confidence in labelling England as outright favourites for the World Cup primarily stems from their extraordinary run of form and results since November 2019.
Following a 28-13 defeat to New Zealand in July 2019, the Red Roses have embarked on a remarkable 25-Test winning run – something never seen before in either women’s or men’s Test rugby.
15 games at home, 10 games away, 13 Six Nations Tests, eight autumn Tests, a one-off Test vs France and two World Cup warm-up Tests. The Red Roses have won them all.
They’ve beaten France eight times in the winning sequence, Italy four times, Scotland and Wales three times, Ireland, the USA and New Zealand twice – beating the latter 43-12 and 56-15 in back-to-back Tests last November – and Canada once.
Such opposition encompasses each of the top six in the world rugby rankings, plus change, and they have largely been dispatched with ease. Particularly of recent times.
The net result of such an unprecedented run of form is that England go in, rightly, as huge favourites.
“The odds are in their favour, they are number one in the world, they are the reigning Six Nations champions, they are full of confidence and have the resources, the investments and the players,” Alphonsi told Sky Sports.
“I just think these players are prepared for it and many will be saying if they don’t win, it would be a failure.
“However, you can’t count out New Zealand, Canada and France because they are also feeling like it is their time.
“I think England will get to the final – crazy to say they won’t.
“If New Zealand get to the final as a home nation it would be great for the crowd and interest.”
1) France 10-20 England, Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont, November 9, 2019
2) England 17-15 France, Sandy Park, Exeter, November 16, 2019
3) England 60-3 Italy, Goldington Road, Bedford, November 23, 2019
4) France 13-19 England, Stade du Hameau, Pau, February 2, 2020
5) Scotland 0-53 England, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, February 10, 2020
6) England 27-0 Ireland, Castle Park, Doncaster, February 23, 2020
7) England 66-7 Wales, Twickenham Stoop, March 7, 2020
8) Italy 0-54 England, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, November 1, 2020
9) France 10-33 England, Stade des Alpes, Grenoble, Nov 14, 2020
10) England 25-23 France, Twickenham Stadium, Nov 21, 2020
11) England 52-10 Scotland, Castle Park, Doncaster, April 3, 2021
12) Italy 3-67 England, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, April 10, 2021
13) England 10-6 France, Twickenham Stoop, April 21, 2021
14) France 15-17 England, Stadium Lille Métropole, April 30, 2021*
*Test was abandoned due to floodlight failure after 62 minutes. England awarded win as more than 60 minutes had been played
15) England 43-12 New Zealand, Sandy Park, Exeter, October 31, 2021
16) England 56-15 New Zealand, Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton, Nov 7, 2021
17) England 51-12 Canada, Twickenham Stoop, November 14, 2021
18) England 89-0 USA, Sixways, Worcester, November 21, 2021
19) Scotland 5-57 England, Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, March 26, 2022
20) Italy 0-74 England, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, April 3, 2022
21) England 58-5 Wales, Kingsholm, Gloucester, April 9, 2022
22) England 69-0 Ireland, Welford Road, Leicester, April 24, 2022
23) France 12-24 England, Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne, April 30, 2022
24) England 52-14 USA, Sandy Park, Exeter, September 3, 2022
25) England 73-7 Wales, Ashton Gate, Bristol, September 14, 2022
Hunger to make up for 2017 World Cup final on Kiwi soil
Out of England’s squad of 32 for this World Cup, eight players endured a heart-breaking World Cup final defeat to New Zealand in 2017 – the loss made all the more painful by the fact England had travelled down and beat New Zealand on Kiwi soil two months before the World Cup.
Star back Emily Scarratt, winger Lydia Thompson, loose-head Vickii Cornborough, hooker Amy Cokayne, tight-head Sarah Bern, flankers Alex Matthews and Marlie Packer and No 8 Sarah Hunter all started that final in Belfast, and will feel a particular hunger to make-up for that defeat in New Zealand.
19 of the playing group have never played at a World Cup before, but the likes of fly-half/centre Helena Rowland (23), wingers Jess Breach (24) and Abby Dow (25), fly-half Zoe Harrison (24), full-back Ellie Kildunne (23), props Maud Muir (21) and Hannah Botterman (23), and flanker Sadia Kabeya (20) have all shown superb talent over the last couple of years.
In addition to their talent, they also know no different than to keep winning. A magnificent habit to adopt in professional sport.
For all their ambitions, intentions and immense quality, the Red Roses are, in some ways, in an unenvious position in that their success and dominance has most certainly ratcheted up pressure to succeed on the grandest stage.
France remain a tough and talented side, while the Black Ferns will be looking for a return to form on home soil, but how well England handle the pressure and expectancy will go a long way to deciding whether they lift the trophy.
Unrivalled set-piece power and depth
England play at a fast tempo, string passes together accurately and have a decent kicking game, while Scarratt is a superb place-kicker. Their real point of difference in world rugby lies at the set-piece, though, with their lineout, maul and scrummaging ability outstanding.
There is no side in the world that has proven able to contain or match the Red Roses’ driving maul, with tries from that particular facet of play coming in abundance.
Indeed, hookers Amy Cokayne and Lark Davies regularly find themselves on the scoresheet, touching down at the back of perfectly-constructed mauls which roar and tear forward through exhausted and near helpless defences.
The forward pack – coached by former Leicester Tigers second row Louis Deacon – has become so attuned to one another, that body positions, timing, ball transferrals and the speed of maul drives is exemplary.
At the scrum, they have destroyed sides in recent years, both with possession and against the head. In Bern, Botterman, Cornborough, Muir and Shaunagh Brown, England’s prop strength in depth is marvellous, and the power of their pack is a regular source of penalties, which in turn leads to lineout and maul opportunities.
A third strong facet to their set-piece performance is lineout steals, with second rows Abbie Ward and Zoe Aldcroft real threats on opposition ball, halting threats at source and, in doing so, demoralising and unsettling opponents.
Lineout, maul and scrum superiority are consistent factors to England’s displays over recent years. They are a well-oiled machine who will take some amount of stopping.