England's women to take first step on road to Rio
Thursday 22 November 2012
This evening in the modest surrounds of Esher rugby club an eclectic collection of teachers, students, a soldier, a police officer, and a vet will begin to instigate their plan to rule the world. Step one is beating the world champions, New Zealand, tonight and repeating that feat twice more over the next nine days.
It marks the first of a series of battles with the Silver Ferns – as the female All Blacks are known – that will go a long way to determining who will emerge on top over a four-year period unlike any in the history of the women's game. It will be fought out at 15-a-side and at sevens – next year is the first ever sevens World Cup played alongside the men's event in Moscow, the year after that is the World Cup for 15-a-side in France and then comes the 2016 Rio Olympics where sevens will step on to its greatest ever stage.
"It is potentially a very exciting few years," said Michaela Staniford, England's sevens captain who plays on the wing tonight. "The pinnacle of any sports person's career is the Olympics – up to now it has always been the World Cup for us. But when you consider the status of the Olympics, the global recognition, especially after London and how many people watched handball, watched women's hockey. It is really good that people had their eyes opened to different sports."
Staniford was part of the 15-a-side England team that were unbeaten in last autumn's three-match series against New Zealand, winning the first two games before drawing the third. It was a significant statement of intent against the side who have won the last four World Cups, beating England in the final in three of them.
In the northern hemisphere, England are dominant – they have won the last seven Six Nations and achieved the Grand Slam in six of them – but it is against New Zealand that their global worth is measured. With a mobile pack and an exciting back line that likes to move the ball around, England will start slight favourites on home soil.
"Everyone knows they are a nation that live, eat, breathe rugby and the women are no exception," said Staniford, a PE teacher (the players are all amateurs). "We are the top two teams in the world and have been for a number of years so when we go head to head there is always going to be high expectations from both parties and it is always a really good battle."
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