A victory over New Zealand, any victory, is to be savoured. A whitewash against New Zealand then is to be treasured. At Twickenham this evening after what most forecasters predict to be an All Black win over England's men, the women will attempt to make it three wins out of three from their autumn series against the Black Ferns.
An England victory, to follow 16-13 and 17-8 successes, would make it four wins out of the last five games against the world champions and offer further evidence that there is at least one shift in power from the southern hemisphere northwards.
By the time the next World Cup begins in France in 2014, it will be 20 years since England last lifted the trophy. They have been runners-up in the last three tournaments; New Zealand winning the last four.
Last year England took two of the three games against New Zealand before drawing the third at Twickenham. As then this series may be won, but a third victory on the biggest stage – the previous two games were held at Esher and Aldershot – is coveted.
"Comparing ourselves to this time last year we are at a different level, both in skill, physically and mentally," said Sarah Hunter, England's vice-captain. "I am not sure we had it in ourselves last year and I think we were happy enough just winning the series. This year we are definitely looking forward to that whitewash."
The players are amateurs – the RFU pay expenses – and so the games are squeezed into an eight-day period. As a result of this taxing schedule there are seven changes to the XV that won on Tuesday, including the return of Katy McLean in the No 10 shirt to reclaim the captaincy from Hunter, who led the side at Aldershot.
It demonstrates England's increasing strength in depth (there is also a sevens squad in action in Dubai over this weekend), a fact that would be confirmed by victory this evening – kick off is at 5pm with entry to Twickenham free once the men have departed. It would also complete a memorable season in which they have won a seventh successive Six Nations title and the European championships.
In contrast New Zealand have only faced England since beating this evening's opponents at nearby Twickenham Stoop to win the World Cup two years ago. The side are hampered by financial constraints – and geography – which restricts them to domestic competition and the annual trip to England outside World Cups.
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