One year before the Women’s Rugby World Cup is postponed, England Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton chose his fall international squad with the flagship event in mind.
Taking the opportunity to test new combinations, Middleton included 11 uncapped players in their squad of 40. The practice squad is made up of eight different Allianz Premier 15s teams and an extremely diverse lineup of players.
“I think everyone was disappointed when the World Cup was called off,” Middleton said.
“We got to that point where it was really starting to come to life, you could feel it coming closer. But when you look at it now, it was probably a blessing in disguise from our perspective. It certainly gives us the opportunity to look at more players as we move forward this fall. “
England have fielded a set of successful internationals to replace the World Cup. The Red Roses will face the Black Ferns at Sandy Park in Exeter and Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton before playing against Canada at Twickenham Stoop and the United States at Worcester’s Sixways.
“We were more than comfortable with the squad we had, but there were a few players who were just starting to stand out, and this extra year means they could make a difference,” said Middleton.
The World Cup was originally scheduled for this fall, but a combination of Covid-19 restrictions in host country New Zealand and the logistics behind some of the qualifying tournaments have suspended competition until 2022.
Middleton added: “From an integrity standpoint this has hopefully given everyone the chance to properly prepare for the tournament, not just New Zealand at home, or us because we would be fantastically supported, but for the other nations that would have just changed.
“This is the first women’s rugby union competition and you have to give everyone the best shot. It was probably the right thing to do.
Former World Player of the Year Emily Scarratt is not included due to a broken leg, while the larger squad includes a mix of experienced internationals and new players. Middleton’s squad includes uncapped, contract-less players, but he insists he picked a side in form.
“Peaks and troughs of form, I think it’s very important to choose fit players when going into a competition,” Middleton said of his selection. “We will choose fit players, but it has to be consistent form, not short-lived, but this whole team is showing up in the league right now.”
“It’s a big sign of what the Premier 15s are doing and the competitive nature of our players,” England captain Sarah Hunter said of the diversity of the teams represented. “Instead of having the same group of players from the same clubs with the same mindset, you get a wide range of people with different qualities and we bring them in to form the Red Roses.”
With the Women’s Six Nations now established on free television, the BBC has taken the rights to this year’s fall internationals, which is propelling women’s football into prime time.
“I would like to say that we have taken a step forward, but we have only taken a step forward if it continues to happen,” said Hunter.
“We don’t want to keep having the same conversations. For me, that will be when we’re fully there, when it becomes the norm and people know when our games are and expect to see them. Having them out there and getting them out there is a really important part of where we want to bring the game. ”
England’s Fall International Series begins later this month on October 31 against New Zealand at Exeter’s Sandy Park and continues weekly throughout November, ending November 21 on the field of the Worcester Warriors, Sixways.