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Katy Daley-Mclean: 'It wasn't the best prep, NZ mashed us the year before, but we still lifted the trophy'

By Lucy Lomax
Katy Daley-McLean carries the World Cup at Twickenham Stadium on August 18, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images for RFU)

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With one year to go until the postponed 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, we spoke to former England World Cup winning captain and Test centurion Katy Daley-Mclean about her experiences as a seasoned World Cup finalist.

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The 35-year-old has been involved in three finals- with one World Cup winning victory sandwiched between two heart breaking losses. Katy reflects on how those career defining matches at the pinnacle of the game felt, what lifting the World Cup trophy was like, plus how she expects England to fair in New Zealand next year.

“The main memories I have from winning the tournament in 2014 was the preparation going into it. We were so ready. I did so many interviews about England always being the bridesmaids and never the bride when it came to World Cup finals.

“Ireland had beaten New Zealand in the pool stages which was a massive upset and talking point and when we’d gone and beat Ireland in the semi-finals we still knew it wasn’t a given. We faced Canada in the final and had drawn with them in the group stages, so we knew we had to turn up on the day.

“The final was by no means a classic, the game was very close until Scaz (Emily Scarratt) scored that try, and once we’d scored I knew we’d done it and we were going to hold a World Cup trophy in our hands. That World Cup win was for all the players who had tried before us.”

In August 2014 in Paris, England were crowned World Champions after a 20 year wait, which had seen them finish second best to the Black Ferns on so many occasions, and much like the men in 2003, the team weren’t expecting the celebration and attention they received when they touched back down on English soil.

“We’d never experienced anything like that, especially for the women’s game. There were national newspapers wanting interviews, putting us on the front and back pages, we went on BBC’s The One Show and myself and Sarah Hunter went on other national television shows.

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“Just the sheer scale and volume of the coverage all the way down to each player’s local area, the amount of interviews and attention it got was amazing.”

The result of that World Cup, as ever with sport, was far from a nailed on certainty as Katy explains…

“There was such a massive sense of pride, getting our medals and finally feeling that relief, especially since the year before had been a bumpy road.

“In 2013 we came third in the Six Nations after being thumped by Ireland and losing at home to France, then that summer we had three Tests away in New Zealand and got smashed 3-0, so it hadn’t been ideal World Cup preparation, but we still lifted the trophy in front of all our friends and family the year after.”

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The devastating loss experienced by the Red Roses in the 2010 final, where arguably England should have come away victorious against New Zealand at the Twickenham Stoop enlarged the sense of relief four years later. Katy describes what she learnt from that experience.

“2010 was a massive reality shock for me. That final made me grow up and made me realise that you don’t always get what you deserve in sport. It taught me that sport isn’t fair. We thought we were nailed on to win it that year, I was a young athlete, but I thought it was our time.

“It didn’t hurt so much to lose in the final in 2017 knowing that we had won it in 2014 and the way New Zealand played that night in Belfast, they deserved it. When I look back on it now without the emotion, you see they had a game plan that we just couldn’t and didn’t do anything about. That made it easier to swallow then if we just hadn’t turned up.”

The Red Roses are currently the number one ranked team in the world. So what does the recently retired fly-half think of England’s chances of dethroning New Zealand on their own patch?

“England will be in the mix. Home World Cups are very interesting- either the Black Ferns will thrive or the pressure will suffocate them. New Zealand don’t play that many games, especially with that type of pressure on them and I think the tournament being delayed a year has helped England. It has given more time for younger players like Zoe (Harrison) to bed in to the fly-half shirt and gain more experience, so I think it has been a beneficial delay.

“Saying that, other nations are starting to catch up, such as France, Canada and America and it will be more than a two horse race this year, plus the addition of the quarter-finals means more knock out rugby which is great.”

Unfortunately for the Red Roses, the first game of the league season saw England stalwart Emily Scarratt break her leg in the opening three minutes, but Katy believes England can get around their reliance on the outside centre.

“It’s a shame for Scaz to have broken her leg however, I wouldn’t worry as England have a lot of strength in depth in the centre position. It will be great to give opportunity in minutes to the girls sitting in the wings, such as Lagi Tuima. I also think Emily’s injury will force Mids’ (England Head Coach Simon Middleton’s) hand a bit more. We have options there and can take advantage of the different dynamics these players bring.”

Katy’s international retirement at the end of last year meant England also had their hand forced when it came to handing over the number 10 shirt, but Katy believes her retirement came at the right time for her both personally and professionally.

“I love it (retirement). I don’t think people expect me to say that! I got to the point where the level you have to train at, the drive you have to have, had started to dwindle. As much as I miss the girls and the elite environment, I don’t miss all the bits that come with it. I also got to go out on my terms and received so many messages of support. I feel very fortunate to have ended it the way I did.”

Katy’s retirement also coincided with an opportunity to work with and coach the newly established Premier 15s club Sale Sharks Women.

“In my role as Women’s Performance Lead I do a bit of everything; a bit of coaching in the backs and implementing and leading the direction of the women’s programme. I really enjoyed playing a few weeks ago against Gloucester-Hartpury, but I don’t think there’ll be many more times when I take to the pitch to be honest!

“Getting a chance to coach and play at Sale filled a gap and you don’t get too many opportunities like that. I get to work with some really talented coaches and as a group it’s such a fantastic opportunity to help shape North West rugby. I feel like I’ve fallen on my feet!”

It’s fair to say Katy’s retirement is a loss to the England environment as one of the best fly-halves to have played the game in this country. But with the clock ticking down to the World Cup next year, only time will tell as to whether England can dish out the same punishment on home soil served up to them by New Zealand in 2010, and of course whether they can do it without their talismanic number 10.

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