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England name squad for Women’s World Cup defence

Leading figures: Coach Simon Middleton and captain Sarah Hunter at Twickenham. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

England’s squad for the Women’s World Cup in August features 15 players who lifted the trophy in 2014


Experience. That’s the buzz word when it comes to describing the England squad Simon Middleton has assembled for their Women’s World Cup defence in August in Ireland.

More than half of the 28 players selected were part of the squad that lifted the trophy in Paris in 2014, when they beat Canada in the final. Six players also took part in last year’s Olympic Games in Rio with Team GB’s sevens team. And four players – Rachael Burford, Rochelle Clark, Tamara Taylor and Danielle Waterman – are about to take part in their fourth consecutive World Cup. These are players used to big occasions.

When you consider that Clark (124) and Taylor (105) have more caps individually than all 16 forwards picked in the Australia squad for the tournament – 102 – it highlights just what a strong position England are in as they aim to win back-to-back world titles.

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Centurion: Tamara Taylor makes ground against France in the Six Nations. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

Form is on their side too. They are unbeaten in 2017, securing a Six Nations Grand Slam and seeing off Australia, Canada and New Zealand in the recent International Women’s Series. The fact they beat four-time world champions New Zealand in New Zealand for the first time since 2001 – a result which saw them rise to No 1 in the world rankings – will have given their confidence a huge boost.

No 8 Sarah Hunter will captain the side while centre Emily Scarratt is vice-captain, and there is strength in depth across the squad. Take hooker: Vicky Fleetwood and Amy Cokayne are both strong at the set-piece but also stand out in the loose and have impressive try-scoring records this year. On the wings, Lydia Thompson, Kay Wilson and Amy Wilson Hardy are all hugely dangerous runners. In the back row there is fierce competition with Hunter, Alex Matthews, Harriet Millar-Mills, Izzy Noel-Smith and Marlie Packer battling for the three starting spots.

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Middleton will now be taking his professional squad through their final preparations ahead of the tournament, which kicks off on Wednesday 9 August. He says: “Our focus has always been on going to Ireland to win the Women’s Rugby World Cup. To do that we are going to have to give more than in any competition we’ve played over the past year.”

Big win: Izzy Noel-Smith and Vicky Fleetwood celebrate beating New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

The Black Ferns are probably England’s biggest rivals for the trophy but Canada, Ireland and France will also be in the mix. In England’s favour is the fact that they will avoid all those teams until the semi-finals; they’re grouped with Spain, Italy and USA, and will be favourites to emerge from the pool stages as top seeds.

The Canada v New Zealand and France v Ireland games on Thursday 17 August are likely to determine the other pool winners, with one of the losers of those two games aiming to go through as the best runner-up.

All of Ireland’s pool games at the UCD Bowl have already sold out – and that’s after extra seats were added – so lively atmospheres are expected in Dublin and then Belfast, where the knockout stages will be played. It’s set to be the best Women’s World Cup yet.

Long run: Danielle Waterman is heading to her fourth World Cup. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

England Women’s World Cup squad

Forwards
Zoe Aldcroft (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 4 caps)
Sarah Bern (Bristol, 10 caps)
Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 124 caps)
Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 28 caps)
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 25 caps)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 61 caps)
Sarah Hunter (C) (Bristol, 93 caps)
Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 8 caps)
Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 22 caps)
Alex Matthews (Richmond, 31 caps)
Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 46 caps)
Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 31 caps)
Marlie Packer (Bristol, 47 caps)
Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 17 caps)
Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 105 caps)

Backs
Rachael Burford (Harlequins, 67 caps)
Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 37 caps)
Megan Jones (Bristol, 4 caps)
La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 66 caps)
Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 85 caps)
Amber Reed (Bristol, 39 caps)
Leanne Riley (Harlequins, 10 caps)
Emily Scarratt (VC) (Lichfield, 69 caps)
Emily Scott (Saracens, 23 caps)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 34 caps)
Danielle Waterman (Bristol, 70 caps)
Kay Wilson (Richmond, 44 caps)
Amy Wilson Hardy (Bristol, 7 caps)

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