For Tamara Taylor and the team, the reminders of the last three World Cup finals, of England’s repeated defeats to New Zealand, are painful but necessary.
The latest tournament starts in France on Friday, with England playing Samoa in the afternoon in Marcoussis. Their eyes, of course, will be on the final at the Stade Jean-Bouin, the 20,000 capacity home of Stade Français, on 17 August.
If England reach the final it would be their fourth in a row. The last three they have all lost to New Zealand. They were beaten 19-9 in Barcelona in 2002, 25-17 in Edmonton, Canada in 2006 and 13-10 at The Stoop four years ago.
That last defeat, in front of 15,000 England fans, was the most painful. Taylor, a veteran of the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, told The Independent she hoped it would act as fuel to take with them to France this month.
England will have to put those memories to work, because they cannot escape them. Taylor sat down for this interview at Surrey Sports Park, the University of Surrey’s sports complex in Guildford, where England were based for the 2010 World Cup. “The memories are more present, because it was here,” Taylor said last week, in the adjoining hotel.
“Last week we were staying at the same accommodation block, which was weird. Last week the Holiday Inn was full, so we went to stay there, which was really, really bizarre. We were practically in the same building we had been in, and everyone was like ‘oh god’, it was all flooding back.
“I thought it wouldn’t affect me, but it brought back a couple of memories. It’s also good as you use that as fuel.”
Four years on, Taylor can remember clearly that afternoon at The Stoop. Despite the result it must still be thought of as one of the great days for women’s rugby in England, at the end of a tournament which had transformed perceptions of the game. For Taylor, who spends her non-playing time promoting the sport, it was a decisive moment.
“It was a massive event,” she recalled. “The 2006 World Cup, in comparison, was quite quiet. 2010 was not on the same scale as the boys, but it did feel more like a big event. Having the final at The Stoop was amazing.”
England ran New Zealand close, fighting back in the second half to be level at 10-10, only to lose to a late penalty. Taylor, who came off in the second half, had to watch from the bench.
“My memory of the last 20 minutes is feeling helpless,” she said. “I was next to Rocky [Rochelle Clark], who had also come off, we were looking at each other thinking, ‘Jesus, this is really close, come on girls’. The minutes tick away, you can’t do anything to influence that, so you are sending every vibe of power you have got left. The whistle went, we had lost when we shouldn’t have lost. I think I cried for an hour afterwards.”
Four years on, Taylor hopes England are more prepared for the tactical challenges that are part of elite international rugby. They did not win the Six Nations this year, nor in 2013 either, having won seven consecutive championships before then. For Taylor, though, these experiences could be even more vital as they prepare for another assault on the biggest prize in the game.
“Obviously everyone would like to go into the World Cup having won everything the year before,” Taylor said. “But the great thing about losing is that you can learn from it.”
This year, in France, England should be cannier at breaking down defensive teams. “Tactically we are a bit better, a bit more intelligent now,” Taylor explained. “We had got quite used to being able to score, and suddenly when you’re against the best team in the world, who are defending against you and you can’t score, a bit of panic goes around. We need to have that patience. Teams are not just going to run away with it any more. New Zealand have been our nemesis for a long time now. We know now that we can beat them.”
This will be Taylor’s third World Cup and she relishes the chance to pass on her experience to some of the younger members of the squad. The set-up is different now, from when a 24-year-old Taylor went to Canada in 2006, and the team is far better prepared.
Women’s rugby is making progress, but success this month would certainly help. “Women’s sport is a lot more in the public eye and better regarded than it was,” Taylor adds. “The 2012 Olympics helped to get female athletes on TV.” If England can learn from their last few defeats, there is scope for even more progress this month.
Women’s World Cup: Tournament details
Pool A Canada, England, Samoa, Spain
Pool B Ireland, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, USA
Pool C Australia, France, South Africa, Wales
v Samoa, 1 Aug 5pm
v Spain, 5 Aug 2.45pm
v Canada, 9 Aug 2.45pm
v USA, 1 Aug 4pm
v New Zealand, 5 Aug 5pm
v Kazakhstan, 9 Aug 12pm
v France, 1 Aug 7.45pm
v Australia, 5 Aug 2pm
v South Africa, 9 Aug 4pm
Four points for a win, two points for a draw, with a bonus point awarded for scoring four or more tries. Teams which lose by seven points or less get a bonus point. Three pool winners progress to the semi-finals as well as the second-placed team with the most points.