Only three players from England Women’s opening Rugby World Cup match against Samoa, will keep their place for the game against Spain.
The 12 new faces brought in are clear evidence of coach Gary Street’s rotation policy as he looks to keep his players fresh all the way to the final, which if they reach, will require the team to have played five matches in just 16 days.
England beat Samoa 65-3 in the tournament opener on Friday and are favourites to triumph over Spain, who lost their opening match to Canada 31-7, but the players expect a tougher test.
“We’ve done a lot of analysis of them,” said Marlie Packer, a 24-year-old flanker, who will gain her first World Cup start today. “They put up a good fight against Canada, they just had a dip for 20 minutes.
“After our first game, we know there’s lots of things to improve on. The scrums and lineouts, but individual executions too. We tend to judge ourselves quite harshly.”
Were Packer not at the tournament in France, she would be carrying on with her day job, as a plumber in the south west.
“It’s nice, not having to do any driving about,” she said. “But plumbing’s a tough job. A lot of lifting, getting stuck in little gaps. And it’s a lonely job, too. Here, you’ve got your team around you all the time.
“I went to Moscow last year for the Sevens world cup but this is my first XVs. I didn’t really know what to expect. But the crowds we’ve had, the support we’ve had, it’s been amazing. Everyone’s been backing us on Twitter with the hashtag #carrythemhome.
“Footballers and politicians have supported us, and Jessica Ennis. It means a lot when it’s from people who’ve done this sort of thing themselves.
“There’s times when in camp it’s amazing. You definitely wouldn’t want to be doing your day job. I don’t think we could be gelled any more as a squad. But there’s emotions, tiredness. You do want five minutes on your own sometimes. We do all gauge it on your own.”
England have one of the most experienced squads in the tournament. The team have reached the last three finals, in 2002, 2006 and 2010, losing them all to New Zealand.
England head coach Street said: “Because of the schedule of the World Cup it’s key that we rotate our players. Having a game every four days is hugely physically and mentally demanding, so our strategy is to rotate the squad and keep the players fresh.
“Rotating the squad means Sarah Hunter is captain for this game and she brings a wealth of knowledge to the role. This is a very different-looking team to the squad that defeated Samoa on Friday but there are still 575 caps shared between our starting XV, so this is by no means an inexperienced team. We have got the depth so we are going to use it.”
England will need to be at their absolute best to go that extra step in this year’s tournament, which takes place at France’s National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis, 15 miles from central Paris. They narrowly lost this year’s Six Nations to France, and New Zealand are again the overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy.
“We want to get to the final. We have not come here not to win it,” said Packer. “We have players that were in the 2010 tournament, in England [when they lost in the final 13-10].
“The standard just keeps on raising all the time. You can do all the analysis you want, but you have to expect the unexpected.”
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