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'Then you're in the wrong place': Sarah Hunter urges England to play without fear

By PA
(Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

England captain Sarah Hunter vowed the Red Roses will play “without fear” when they challenge holders New Zealand for the World Cup trophy on Saturday.

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The showpiece between the world’s top two nations is poised to break an attendance record, with over 40,000 ticket-holders expected to descend on Auckland’s sold-out Eden Park.

History is on the line for both sides in the rematch of the 2017 final. A loss would see number-one ranked England snap a 30-game Test win streak, the most of any men’s or women’s international side, while the Black Ferns are seeking a record sixth title and their first on home soil.

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“I just think there’s that real sense of wanting to be together and about what this group want to go and do on Saturday, and just go in and play without fear,” said number eight Hunter.

“There’s things in life you don’t get to do very often, and very few people get to do, and that’s to play in a World Cup final.

“For people just to be themselves and to enjoy it – if you don’t enjoy playing in the biggest occasions then you’re in the wrong place.

“We just want people to be in that, and just go enjoy themselves, play without fear, without what the pressure of what will be because there’s one thing for sure: we’ve seen with this group that whatever they do in games they’ll put their best version out.

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“We’ll be as best as we can be, we’ll give it everything. In sport things don’t always go your way, but we’ll look back and know we have done everything we can do on Saturday, regardless of the result, and we can be proud of that.”

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England head coach Simon Middleton has made five changes to the line-up that beat Canada in the semi-final.

Helena Rowland sustained a foot injury in that match and will be replaced by Harlequins’ Ellie Kildunne at full-back, while her club team-mate Vickii Cornborough gets the nod at loose-head prop following a knee injury to Hannah Botterman in training last week.

“(Botterman) has been amazing, how she’s supported the team,” said Middleton. “As soon as she had the injury she knew she wasn’t going to take any further part, and it was like, ‘What can I do?’’

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Middleton has also elected to start Holly Aitchison at inside centre in place of Tatyana Heard, who is among the substitutes.

Claudia MacDonald also begins on the bench with Abby Dow making the switch from right to left wing, while Lydia Thompson returns on the right.

While the hosts are set to enjoy unprecedented support, Middleton believes the electric atmosphere at Eden Park could actually better serve his squad.

“I don’t think it will be (intimidating),” he said. “I honestly don’t think it will. You can look at it in two ways: I think it will be more intimidating for New Zealand.

“To lose in front of your home crowd is a tough gig. So the pressure on them is absolutely massive.

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“We said right at the start, the opportunity that the competition gave us is exactly the opportunity that’s now in front of us. Very rarely in life do you get an opportunity to be the best you can be or try and achieve the ultimate and test yourself.

“We’re really fortunate that we’ve now got that scenario. That’s why we’re looking forward to it so much.”

England: E Kildunne (Harlequins), L Thompson (University of Worcester Warriors), E Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), H Aitchison (Saracens), A Dow (Wasps), Z Harrison (Saracens), L Infante (Saracens), V Cornborough (Harlequins), A Cokayne (Harlequins), S Bern (Bristol Bears), Z Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), A Ward (Bristol Bears), A Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury), M Packer (Saracens), S Hunter (Loughborough Lightning, captain)

Replacements: L Davies (Bristol Bears), M Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), S Brown (Harlequins), C O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), P Cleall (Saracens), S Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), C MacDonald (Exeter Chiefs), T Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury)

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N
Nickers 26 minutes ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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T
Thomas 37 minutes ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

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