After being pushed back 12 months, it is almost time for the best women’s rugby players to take centre stage for the World Cup.
England continued their preparations by thrashing Wales 73-7 to become the first international side to win 25 matches in a row.
They will, however, be without one of their most experienced at the World Cup, with Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt the shock omission from the Red Roses’ 32-strong squad for the tournament, which is due to be offiically named on Tuesday.
England won the World Cup in 1994 and 2014 and finished runners-up on five occasions, including at the last tournament in 2017 where they lost to New Zealand in the final.
What is it and where will it be held?
The ninth edition of women rugby’s showpiece tournament that was postponed from 2021 due to Covid, with reigning champions New Zealand hosting the Women’s Rugby World cup for the first time. This year’s tournament will also be the first to be hosted by a southern hemisphere nation.
When is it?
The tournament kicks off on Saturday October 8 in Auckland, with South Africa taking on France in the opening match. The final closes the tournament in Auckland on Saturday November 12.
Which TV channel is it on?
Every game from the tournament will be broadcast live on BT Sport and ITV in the UK.
When are England’s fixtures?
Sat Oct 8 – v Fiji, Auckland
Sat Oct 15 – v France, Whangarei
Sun Oct 23 – v South Africa, Auckland
When are the knockouts?
Sun Oct 3 – Quarter-finals
Sat Nov 5 – Semi-finals
Sat Nov 12 – Final
What is the latest news?
Star centre Emily Scarratt says England’s preparations leave no room for excuses as they target a third World Cup victory.
Scarratt has witnessed a radical transformation in the women’s game and is expected to be an influential figure in New Zealand this autumn when Simon Middleton’s side will aim to conquer the world.
Scarratt was among the heroes of 2014, finishing as the tournament’s highest points scorer, but also appeared in the 2010 and 2017 World Cups in a career that numbers 103 caps despite a lengthy interruption to play sevens.
For this event England are huge favourites, possessing a record 25-Test winning run and the most professional set-up, including the use of full-time contracts that have helped create unrivalled depth.
“The game has a changed a lot. You can look at it from so many different angles,” Scarratt said. “Fundamentally, how much time we are spending together in preparation is hugely different to 2010. Things like kit provision, how we travel, where we stay.
“The massive one we have now is the support network we have with the fans. It’s been awesome to play a couple of warm-up games at home in front of 10,000 people. In the past we’ve had that for a World Cup final, not the warm-up fixture prior to it. It’s really exciting.
“And it’s scary how much the quality has gone up on the pitch. You get some of these youngsters running around – they are super fast, super talented and super skilful. It’s an awesome place to be.
“Our domestic league has taken off which has obviously helped to bring players on quickly. We were part of the 2017 final that was one of the best World Cup finals in terms of quality.
“Obviously we’d rather have been on the right side of the result rather than being part of a fantastic spectacle, but you can see the quality is right up there.”
Scarratt’s own elation at discovering she had been included in the squad was tempered by learning that her long-term friend and team-mate Natasha Hunt had failed to make the cut.
Middleton, the Red Roses head coach, explained that Hunt’s playing style is at odds with what he wants from the position, meaning that the starting No 9 for the last two World Cup finals will not be present in New Zealand.
“She’s gutted and I’m gutted for her because she’s my best mate. Irrelevant of the rugby side of things, you want those people around you,” Scarratt said.