We are now just days away from the start of the Old Mutual Wealth Autumn Series between England Women and Canada, where they’ll play three matches against each other over nine days.
We last saw both teams in action at the Rugby World Cup in Ireland in August. When England played New Zealand in the final, I have to say I thought it was one of the best World Cup finals I’ve had the privilege to watch, men or women’s rugby. As we know, England finished runners-up in a final that was theirs for the taking. Canada, on the other hand, who were one of the favourites to make the final but finished a disappointing fifth. This means this series will be even more tasty as I am sure both teams will want to come back fighting.
England’s focus returns to Sevens again this season and so with it a migration of backs leaving the XVs game in search of Commonwealth and World Cup Sevens glory.
Post a World Cup campaign, teams always go through a period of transition and England are no different. England have selected a squad with ten new debutants; six of which are backs, and four forwards, with sixteen players returning from the squad that competed in the World Cup. I remember following the 2006 World Cup final my team was barely recognisable the next season because everyone had retired, and new players were being given their chance.
One of those new emerging players will be Zoe Harrison. Remember that name. She is a player who’s stood out this season for Saracens. She’s a fly-half with a special touch. Not dissimilar to Owen Farrell, she can play at 10 or 12, she controls a game like she has all the time in the world and has one hell of a boot. Zoe is someone who could compliment Katy Daley-Mclean if she is chosen at 12, or perhaps she maybe challenging the England stalwart for that number 10 shirt!
For Canada, it’s all change with sixteen new players and an interim coach at the helm. Sandro Fiorino’s appointment was only confirmed at the beginning of this month, so he’s only had two weeks to pick his squad and get them ready for this gruelling three Test series against the world’s number two side.
Fortunately for Canada, Fiorino is no stranger to the squad. He’s worked as the Sevens assistant coach since 2011, and he knows what it takes to beat England, on the Sevens circuit anyway. He’s also coached Canada U20s.
Watch out for Canada’s Emma Jada over this series. Like Harrison, Jada will also be making her XVs international debut, but on the wing. She has already represented Canada on the Sevens World Series and has shown she has a lot of pace to burn.
What to Expect
Canada start the series as the underdogs but that could work in their favour. They play better when the pressure is off. With a Sevens coach in the driving seat, I expect to see a team wanting to attack and try things. England’s Simon Middleton, meanwhile, has made it clear this season is still about winning and he expects his experienced players to lead from the front, especially those in the forward pack. Sarah Hunter, Marlie Packer, Tamara Taylor and Rochelle Clark will all need to be on their ‘A’ game against this unpredictable Canadian side.
England’s last outing against Canada in June during the International Women’s Rugby Series, saw them secure a narrow and hard-fought win. Canada scored two impressive tries; one through their forwards and the second through an interception out wide. In that Test, England showed they knew how to close out a game but in the World Cup final, they got it terribly wrong handing the Black Ferns the game in the second half. If England can get the balance right, and start well and finish strong then the first Test will be theirs. As a rugby fan, I am desperately hoping for a series decider on the 25th November (with England winning of course!), but I think with the forward pack and experience England has, it will be a whitewash to the Red Roses.