The Red Roses are Back
While the British & Irish Lions lick their wounds after a mauling from the Auckland Blues this week, another international side is in New Zealand getting ready for a tough Test series.
England’s Red Roses are competing in the International Women’s Rugby Series where they will take on the very best in the world, playing Australia, Canada and New Zealand. In my first blog of the series, I take a look at Australia and how I think England will fair against them when they go head to head at Porirua Park, in Wellington on Friday KO 1.30am BST.
ENGLAND – Ranked second in the world. England have opted for youth over experience for the first Test. It’s a team led by the former England captain, Katy Mclean and is packed with wise heads on the bench but the starting line-up is pretty fresh. The team selected by Head Coach Simon Middleton is not his strongest as it’s missing familiar names like Danielle Waterman, Marlie Packer and Rochelle Clark. On the bench there’s also Emily Scarratt, captain Sarah Hunter and Natasha Hunt.
In the backs, Middleton has gone for pace over power with some tried and tested England Sevens players starting. At 11, Middleton has selected Sarah McKenna who normally plays at fly-half, inside-centre or full-back. She has pace but she’s not known for her out and out gas which Australia are! This is an interesting selection which shows Middleton is accessing all his options. At outside centre, Megan Jones makes her third England start. Normally a fly-half or inside-centre, the outside centre role will throw up some very different challenges that could make her vulnerable in being caught out in defence. Let’s wait and see how she fairs.
In the forwards, there are not too many surprises other than captain Sarah Hunter being rested on the bench and the timely return of Abbie Scott in the second row, who’s been out injured. England have a very strong and mobile backrow and I’m looking forward to seeing how they perform as a unit. Alex Matthews at 8 is destructive with ball in hand, Izzy Noel-Smith at 7 is a grafter and Harriet Miller-Mills at 6 is a strong ball carrier.
England have a tendency of being slow starters so I expect them to be rusty in their first outing but to get better as the tests keep coming. If England can come out of the blocks first and keep errors to a minimum then the first test should go England’s way. Expect the forwards to be used a lot in this game. With the likes of Vicky Fleetwood, Vickii Cornborough and Sarah Bern all big ball carriers, England will want to use them to cause as much damage up front and then release the pace in the backs with try scoring sensation Kay Wilson on the right wing.
AUSTRALIA - Ranked 6th in the World. England last played them in 2010 in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. Yes, that’s correct your eyes are not deceiving you….a whole seven years ago!!! England took the spoils that day but women’s rugby in Australia has gone through a major transformation since then.
In 2016 Australia made history, becoming the first team to win an Olympic gold medal in Sevens rugby. Australia are now superstars Down Under and you would be hard pushed to find a person who doesn’t not know the names of Charlotte Caslick and Ellia Green. XVs rugby in Australia is some what lagging behind and this series will be an opportunity for the Aussies to get the wheels in motion before the start of the Rugby World Cup in August.
Verdict: England to win. England have more experience and depth on the bench and will be far too strong for Australia. Sevens captain and gold medalist Shannon Parry, and Sharni Williams, bolster the squad so could be the spark needed to get Australia up to speed.
WHAT’S TO COME
England go on to play Canada on Tuesday 13th June at Rugby Park, Christchuch and New Zealand on the 17th June at Rotorua International Stadium ahead of the Lions Maori All Blacks game. If England can get off to a good start in the first test against Australia, it will set them up well. The Rugby World Cup is less than three months away and a good performance in this series will build confidence and momentum, but with only three days to recover between tests, it is a lot easier said than done!