Captain Sarah Hunter has unveiled England’s Six Nations squad for the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup, with head coach Simon Middleton naming a record number of newcomers.
A fourth straight Six Nations victory, a Grand Slam, and a record-equaling winning streak in any other year would be cause for celebration.
England, on the other hand, will not slack down in their pursuit of something even bigger in 2022: a World Cup victory.
On Saturday, the Red Roses won their 23rd game in a row in front of a raucous Bayonne crowd.
It matches England’s best-ever run, which lasted from 1992 to 1997, and completes their reign as world champions.
They overcame the Black Ferns twice in a row in fall and have now beaten France ten times in a row.
At the present, it seems like no one will be able to stop them when the World Cup in New Zealand takes place in October.
Although the team is excited to celebrate their Grand Slam victory, skipper Sarah Hunter made it known after the game on Two.
“Our adventure isn’t over yet,” she said.
“Something wonderful is occurring, but we can’t rest on our laurels; we still have to go above and beyond for the World Cup.”
More important than records is the World Cup.
After Romane Menager scored an early try for the hosts in the south of France, England were spooked.
But the Red Roses’ rolling maul paid off, as Sarah Bern was soon over for the first of her two tries, as England pulled away for a 24-12 victory.
The win means England hasn’t lost a game since a loss to the Black Ferns in July 2019 and hasn’t lost in the Six Nations since 2018.
The World Cup, though, is “always at the back of everyone’s mind,” according to Bern.
“It’s fantastic to have those records when you get to the World Cup,” she continues, “but at the end of the day, you have to win the World Cup.”
‘We shown great tenacity.’
Prop In Bayonne, England’s Sarah Bern scored two tries.
Given the circumstances, England’s win is all the more stunning. From the warm-up, a hostile French audience booed England for every penalty they conceded.
As France flags filled the skies, a persistent pounding from the local brass band kept the excitement high.
Katy Daley-Mclean, a former World Cup-winning captain, believes that success under such circumstances would give England “the mental advantage” over France in the final.
The teams will compete in pools and may play each other again in the knockout rounds.
The triumph was “very crucial, particularly away from home with a hostile crowd and difficult competition,” says Emily Scarratt, who took over as captain for the day since Hunter was injured.
Given that Simon Middleton’s team had won all of their prior games by 50 points or more – against mostly professional or amateur opponents – it was by far the toughest challenge they had encountered all tournament.
The head coach was pleased with his team’s performance, believing they demonstrated the mental and physical toughness necessary to become world champions.
“We wanted to see how robust this side is and whether it can withstand extreme pressure,” he said.
“We shown great tenacity.”
‘New Zealand and France are going to show up.’
There are still five months before the World Cup, so New Zealand and France have time to turn things around.
England will finish the Premier 15s season with their clubs before returning to international training in July in preparation for a series of warm-up matches in September.
New Zealand has already revealed an attractive series of warm-up games as well as an even more enticing new coaching staff.
The Black Ferns are seeking to recover from the ashes of a scathing culture evaluation that resulted in head coach Glenn Moore’s departure.
Former All Blacks assistant Wayne Smith has been named director of rugby, while World Cup-winning men’s coach Graham Henry will provide assistance.
Following England’s devastating losses, New Zealand has picked up their game, and France might do the same.
Bern said of the World Cup, “To sit here and claim we’ve got this in the bag would be ridiculous.”
“New Zealand is bringing in some fantastic instructors. We all know that France will always return to battle.
“The World Cup will be attended by everyone. We need to make sure we’re there and looking as well as the rest of the group.”
England, who have been fully professional for over three years, are unlikely to deviate from their road to World Cup triumph.
Middleton, though, will allow his team a little pause on way after another victorious Six Nations campaign.
When asked what England will do now that they had won, he laughs, “We’ve got a pretty good notion about the next 10 hours.”
During a fantastic season, England scored 45 tries while only conceding four.
England’s incredible run
• England has won the last four Women’s Six Nations tournaments, with their most recent setback being an 18-17 defeat in France in 2018.
• Their Grand Slam victory in 2022 was their fourth in six years.
• Simon Middleton’s team has won 23 consecutive games, tying their all-time record established between 1992 and 1997.
• England’s most recent setback was a 28-13 loss to New Zealand in San Diego in July 2019.
• England has won ten of their last eleven games against France.