England’s women’s rugby players can use the Lionesses for inspiration as they seek global domination according to 2014 World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi.
The flanker was the headline act when England claimed the title seven years ago and the Red Roses are now overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy in the tournament that kicks off in New Zealand this week.
That would continue a remarkable year for women’s sport, following the Lionesses’ magical Euros success this summer and Alphonsi believes it is crucial that the team ride that momentum, particularly with a home World Cup just three years down the line.
“When it comes to 2025, if the women can do well in this World Cup, it builds momentum,” said Alphonsi, who was meeting with women and girls who play for National Lottery-supported Haringey Rhinos RFC, to see for herself how National Lottery funding is having a positive impact on female participation at the club.
“Because it’s only three years away, it’s nice momentum. When you think about what the Lionesses did, what the cricket team, the netball team and all the others have done, it’s huge for women’s sport. If we can ride the crest of that wave through to 2025, it creates an increased participation, that will be significant. It’s still three years away but I’m excited and I’m excited about the World Cup that’s about to start.”
Having won their last 25 international matches, an outright record in the men’s and women’s game, England have established themselves as the dominant force in the sport.
The Red Roses have won the last three TikTok Women’s Six Nations titles and on their record streak, only France have managed to finish within seven points of them.
They find themselves in the same pool as les Bleues, with hosts New Zealand perhaps the other side who could seriously threaten their chances.
Last autumn, England handed the Black Ferns the two heaviest defeats in their history, but since then, the defending champions have brought in Wayne Smith, Graham Henry, and Mike Cron to their coaching staff, all of whom have been part of men’s World Cup-winning set-ups.
Despite that, anything other than an England title would be a shock, and Alphonsi admits that coping with that new status may be their biggest challenge.
She said: “If I think about my experience, going back to 2006 then 2010, there was always a feeling going into the tournament that New Zealand were the favourites and then you would expect England would reach the final, but could they go and win it?
“Even in 2017, I’d say New Zealand still felt like they were the favourites, so this is probably the first time where England have been seen as the overwhelming favourites and it’s theirs to lose. It puts a lot of pressure on their shoulders, especially away in New Zealand in front of those crowds, potentially playing New Zealand in the final.
“They beat them twice in the autumn, convincingly, but Simon Middleton won’t let the team rest on their laurels because of those wins. New Zealand will be better than they were last autumn, they have great coaches working with them. And then you have France who are always snapping at the heels as well. And you can get upsets so teams like Canada, USA, the list goes on, they will all be dangerous.
“England have been playing so well, they were challenged a little bit in the warm-up games but looked good and if there were any chinks in the armour, they will have ironed those out. What is impressive about this England team is that it feels like they have thrived when playing under pressure. They won the Six Nations and just seem to be getting better and better.”
One of the reasons that England will not be counting any chickens heading into the tournament is that five years ago, they also had reason to feel confident.
They had won the Grand Slam and beat New Zealand on their own patch, but when it came to the final in Dublin, they were beaten 41-32 in a classic.
With Covid pushing this tournament back a year, that has made the wait for revenge that little bit longer.
Alphonsi added: “They will have spent a lot of time thinking about that loss in 2017, five years is a long time so they will be desperate to make up for that. There will be pressure to do so but World Cups often throw up surprises.
“I am just so excited that the World Cup is about to start. We can already see that lots of records are going to be broken.
“The fact that New Zealand is hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup for the first time is huge. They have announced that there will be 35,000 people attending that first game, which is a record. It feels like it’s been a long time coming, and with Covid, it has!”
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