Women’s international rugby is once again back in the spotlight

WRWC England v Canada, World Cup Final at Stade Jean Bouin, Avenue du Général Sarrail, Paris, France, on 17th August 2014

Women’s international rugby is once again back in the spotlight with the Rugby Super Series kicking off in Calgary this Saturday. The tournament sees Rugby World Cup champions England, RWC runners-up Canada, former RWC champions New Zealand and the USA in action. With that calibre of opposition, it is certainly going to be a super charged series!

Since me and my England teammates won the RWC in France ten months ago, a lot has happened. Let’s start with New Zealand. Going into the RWC last year, the four times world champs were huge favourites. The RWC, though, proved more of a challenge than they anticipated as they unexpectedly lost to Ireland in the pool stages. That result clearly was a bitter pill to swallow but the Black Ferns have used that disappointment to drive their Olympic dreams, once again smashing it on the World Sevens Series circuit.

But what about their XVs team? The Black Ferns seem to have the knack of not competing much in between major tournaments but still managing to turn it on when it counts. And, as they haven’t competed in any Test match rugby since the RWC, then that is what they’ll be hoping they can do again. However, the fact that they are even competing in this series is unusual and this must be applauded! I just hope this means that the NZRU are investing more time and resource into the women’s XVs programme. One thing is for certain though, the Black Ferns knows how to win and how to close out a game so they’ll be big favourites for this series.

Canada have had an outstanding couple of years. In 2013, their sevens team made it to the final of the Rugby World Cup. Last season, both their XVs and Sevens teams exceeded expectations and went on the rampage against the best teams in the world, most noticeably the XVs making the final of the RWC. Most impressively, they finished four places better than where they finished in 2010.

2015 has also been a great year, topped off so far by finishing second in the Sevens World Series, and qualifying for next year’s Olympic Games. There progression hasn’t just stopped at their senior teams as their U20s squad have just won the U20s CanAm title. The strength of the Canadian set-up has gone from strength to strength. They also have managed how to utilise their sevens players well but the question is how much have they resourced their XVs team? As www.scrumqueens.com recently reported, their players are still being forced to dig into their own pockets and find $1,200 each to play in the Super Series. What makes this lack of progress and support even more frustrating, is that their XVs men players and both their sevens teams are all fully funded! I only hope that Canada will once again prove to be as good as the team I played against in the RWC and their progress has not been compromised by the shocking lack of support of the XVs game.

The USA have had a mixed year. Similar to Canada and New Zealand, they too have solely concentrated on sevens rugby and qualifying for Rio. In 2014, their XVs side  finished sixth at the RWC, a slip of one place on 2010, while this season they secured a fifth place finish on the Sevens World Series and qualified for Rio through the NACRA sevens championship.

The USA has always proved to be a strong team that are capable of toughing out a win when it is needed, but this is a young team. Pete Steinberg has only five players from last year’s World Cup squad following a training camp consisting of 200 players. The USA may not be considered favourites for the series but they are not a side to back down from any challenge and they are going to want to take out a big scalp, so Canada, New Zealand and England better not take their eyes off the ball.

Now to England. Following England’s amazing World Cup win, the year that has followed has not been quite so smooth. Myself and five other players retired, coaches Gary Street and Graham Smith left under questionable circumstances, while the performance focus has switched to sevens. England qualified for the Olympics but the results were not easy to come by. The positive was that 20 players were awarded professional contracts which was a massive step forward for women’s rugby in England.

The Super Series now, I hope, represents a turning point for England. Simon Middleton takes over as overall Head Coach with Scott Bemand and Matt Ferguson also joining the coaching set-up. England have also blooded some young, exciting players during the Six Nations.

The series is certainly an opportunity for England to regain their dominance, but the fear factor of their World Champion status has certainly been watered down.  England need to get off to a good start against the USA to have every chance of doing well. I am confident they can do that under the leadership of Sarah Hunter and with the support of fellow senior players such as Rochelle Clarke, Tamara Taylor, and returning sevens players Emily Scarratt, Marlie Packer and Heather Fisher. It is going to be a funny feeling watching England run out without me but I am going to be glued to the series and of course will be backing my former teammates all the way. You can watch the series here:

Rugby Super Series Fixtures

June 27 Calgary Rugby Park

England v USA, KO 11pm BST

Canada v NZ, KO 130am BST (June 28)

July 1 Red Deer Titans Park

England v NZ, KO 11pm BST

Canada v USA, KO 130am BST (July 2)

July 5 Ellerslie Rugby Park, Edmonton

New Zealand v USA, KO 11pm BST

England v Canada, 130am BST (July 6)

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