Rugby World Cup: Why England are favourites to win

Rugby World Cup: Why England are favourites to win

England won a fourth successive Women’s Six Nations title in 2022
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, October 8 Kick-off: 04:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

England’s statistics over the last three years speak for themselves.

They begin their World Cup campaign against Fiji on Saturday having claimed a fourth consecutive Women’s Six Nations title in 2022.

Currently on a record streak of 25 Test wins in a row, England have not lost since July 2019 and have been top of the world rankings since November 2020.

In 2022, the Red Roses have scored an average of nine tries per game across seven Tests.

In their five Six Nations matches, they conceded four tries and scored 45 – only 10 less than the other five teams combined.

An impressive run which could extend all the way to the World Cup final in New Zealand on 12 November, but what is behind it?

Professionalism and strength in depth

When Simon Middleton’s side lost the 2017 World Cup final to New Zealand, the head coach vowed to improve England’s strength in depth.

He has been helped by England becoming the first side to introduce widespread professional contracts for its XVs players in 2019 – with France, Wales and New Zealand the only other fully professional teams at the World Cup.

The Rugby Football Union has also invested in the domestic Premier 15s league, which enjoyed its most competitive season yet in 2021-22.

Now, the Red Roses have enough world-class players to produce two competitive starting XVs, making their bench a formidable weapon.

England boast the last two winners of the World Rugby Player of the Year award – Zoe Aldcroft and Emily Scarratt.

Center Scarratt is one of three 2014 World Cup winners starting in Saturday’s opener against Fiji alongside wing Lydia Thompson and captain Sarah Hunter.

But there is an abundance of young talent too, with 20-year-old flanker Sadia Kabeya and 24-year-old fly-half Zoe Harrison just two examples.

England's Leanne Infante celebrates and the words 'England have scored an average of nine tries per game in 2022'

The rolling maul

England have rapid wingers able to score from inside their own half, but their rolling maul has been their most reliable source of tries in recent years.

Aided by the arrival of forwards coach and former England lock Louis Deacon in August 2021, the side’s line-outs have become increasingly fruitful.

The scrum has previously creaked against the physical might of France, but captain Hunter says that has been an area of ​​improvement since the Six Nations, as well as the breakdown.

The only worry is whether England are too reliant on one tactic.

“If teams can stop that drive early doors, my concern for England is what they do next because nobody has done that,” World Cup-winning captain Katy Daley-Mclean said on BBC Radio 5 Live.

“Do they have that plan B and can they use it if they need to?”

A unified and accountable squad

England seem to have things sorted off the field.

Middleton ensures his players have accountability for their performances with a strategy group formed that directly inputs into gameplans.

The head coach says there is “a massive amount of ownership”, explaining that a group of 10 – three coaches and seven players – would work together to form a plan for the Fiji game.

Then there is the sanctity of what Hunter calls the “inner circle”.

Everyone in New Zealand is calling England favorites to win, but the Red Roses refuse to acknowledge anything beyond the game in front of them.

Instead they seem to have been enjoying their time in Auckland so far, riding through the city on scooters and taking dips in waterfalls.

“We just feel one unit,” scrum-half Leanne Infante said. “There’s no hierarchy in the group. There’s no staff v players. We’re all coming together, having really good conversations but also having difficult conversations.”

Having been dominant for so long, Daley-Mclean says England are “used to the favorites tag” meaning “the days of having to worry about pressure are gone”.

What could stop them?

Middleton has already admitted anything less than winning the World Cup would be a failure, but it is possible.

England won the tournament in 1994 and 2014 and have been runners-up five times – four of which were losses to New Zealand in the final.

Since disappointing results against France and England in 2021, hosts New Zealand have brought in coaches from the men’s game in Wayne Smith and Graham Henry and may be buoyed by home crowds set to break attendance records.

Middleton says New Zealand are “primed to be at their best going into this competition”.

“Everything that’s gone has taken so much pressure off them in terms of a home World Cup,” he added.

“They are confident and rightly so. They have got fantastic players – a good mix of youth and experience.

“They have got a good coaching team who have been round the block and will unquestionably have a number of things up their sleeve.”

France are England’s other main rivals and, even though the Red Roses have won their last 10 matches against Les Bleues, Middleton is wary.

“When we take the field against France or New Zealand – if you have a bad day and they have a good day, you’re going to get beat,” he said.

“Momentum is an unbelievably powerful thing and if a team gets momentum, particularly in a big game, it’s very easy for players to get nervous.

“We won’t be taking anything for granted. If we make the final, which obviously is our goal, we’ll need to be at our very best to win it.”

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