England’s Red Roses got their International Women’s Rugby Series campaign off to a flying start with a nine-try win against Australia on Friday. In my second blog of the series, I take a look at the 23 selected to play Canada on Tuesday and how I think they will fair (KO 1.30am BST, Rugby Park, Christchurch)
England Head Coach Simon Middleton has called in the experienced players for Tuesday’s game. Middleton is fully aware that Canada will present a different challenge to that of Australia, making eleven changes to his starting line-up from Friday.
He has stuck with Sarah McKenna on the left wing. An experiment that definitely paid off against Australia. She showed her versatility and waltzed over the whitewash for a deserved hat-trick. It’s a move Middleton will be very pleased with because it now gives him another option at wing, and a possible selection headache come Rugby World Cup time in August.
In the centres, Middleton continues to test out his combinations,moving Megan Jones to 12 alongside the experience head of Emily Scarratt. Jones at inside centre will give England plenty of attacking options. She can easily step up at first receiver and with Katy Mclean on the bench England have an abundance of decision makers to choose from.
The half back pairing of Amber Reed and La Toya Mason will bring another dynamic to the England backline. Mason brings much experience to the nine role, she is less of a snipe runner than Leanne Riley but with Natasha Hunt on the bench her mission will be to attack the breakdown fringes in the second half. Reed tends to play a lot deeper and takes the ball on less than Mclean, so expect to see a lot of England’s attack come from the outside channels with Scarratt, Danielle Waterman, Lydia Thompson and Sarah McKenna all ready to pounce.
In the forwards, I can’t single out one person to watch. Just be prepared to see a lot more tries scored from the driving lineout. England used this to good effect during the Six Nations and against Australia, scoring two well executed tries. Canada will need to be ready for this and be prepared to stop it at its source.
Ranked third in the world, when England play Canada they are always BIG games. Both were finalists three years ago in the Rugby World Cup, and no love has been lost between them ever since.
Canada have quickly become a powerhouse of women’s rugby. Setting the world alight in Sevens, taking bronze from GB in the Rio Olympic Games last year, and making huge waves in XVs.
Canada didn’t get the dream start they wanted against New Zealand in their first match of this series, losing 28-16. However, they did push the Black Ferns all the way scoring two impressive tries.
They are a team full of Sevens players and have plenty of pace in their ranks. England will especially need to keep an eagle eye on the right wing Magali Harvey. Her length of the field try to seal the victory against France in the semi-finals of the 2014 Rugby World Cup still gets talked about now!
In the forwards, Canada have a backrow that can pack a punch. Olympic Bronze medalists Kelly Russell at 8 and Karen Paquin at 7 are no strangers to performing under pressure. Jacey Gruswick makes up the unit and her try against New Zealand demonstrates how lethal the Canadian backrow can be.
England started slow on Friday with Australia landing the first blow within five minutes. England cannot give Canada a head start like that as they will punish them. Canada last beat England in the summer of 2016, the score that day was 52-17 so do not right them off. They do have the ability and players to beat England on their day.
Verdict: England to snatch a narrow win.