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How England can realise their 'ultimate potential' at RWC

By Finn Morton
England celebrate victory. Photo by Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

Coach Simon Middleton believes England can “realise our ultimate potential” if they get the chance to play the Black Ferns in the World Cup Final next weekend.

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While England are focused on their semi-final matchup against World No. 3 Canada, Middleton briefly looked ahead to what next week could look like.

New Zealand were the last country to hoist the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017, when they beat the Red Roses 41-32 at Kingspan Stadium, Belfast.

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But fast forward a number of years, especially the 2021 end-of-year tour, and the Red Roses have well and truly stamped their ascendency on women’s rugby.

The Black Ferns travelled to England and France during their 2021 end-of-year tour, and were beaten by emphatic margins in all four Test matches – including a 56-15 loss to the Red Roses in Northampton.

But with so much history on the line next weekend at Eden Park, it’s almost no surprise that Middleton wants the Red Roses to “test” themselves against New Zealand.

“When the competition was decided where it was going to be played, we all sort of looked at each other and went ‘right, very rarely in life do you get to test yourself in the utmost circumstances’,” Middleton said.

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“To play the Black Ferns at Eden Park, in a World Cup Final, when they’re the World Cup holders. If you can tick that box, then you’ve pretty much ticked every box as a player, as a member of the management staff.

“If that happens to be the case then we get an opportunity to try and realise our ultimate potential, but that’s as far as it goes.

“We’ve got to get there and Canada are formidable opponents.”

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New Zealand will have to overcome some recent unwanted history of their own though, if they are to progress through to the decider at Eden Park.

During their end-of-year tour, France recorded two big wins over the Black Ferns in Pau and Castres.

But with coaching guru Wayne Smith at the helm, the Black Ferns appear to be a different team this year – one that’s full of confidence too.

While they suffered a bit of a scare in the opening half an hour of their clash with the Wallaroos to start the tournament, they’ve gone on to score 209 points in just four games.

“To be honest it could go either way,” he added.

“What France turn up? That’ll be a big factor in it. Can New Zealand cope with the pressure? Will France allow them to play their game?

“Honestly, it’s really difficult to call, really difficult.

“We’ve talked about the influence of the crowd and what the atmosphere will be like (in the Final). I think it’d be very different depending on whether the Black Ferns are there or not.

“But for us, we’re just really looking forward to playing there, it’ll be a great atmosphere. I think we’re expecting the crowd to get behind Canada which is fine from my point of view.

“We just want to make sur that we’re in the right mix next week so we’ll just focus on that.”

England captain Sarah Hunter, who played her 138th Test in the quarter-final, said it’ll be a “great spectacle for women’s rugby” regardless of who makes the Final.

“The focus is purely on this week and that semi-final takes care of itself,” Hunter said.

“Whoever gets to the Final, that’ll be it and it’ll be a great spectacle for women’s rugby but we just want to make sure that we’re in it and let the other two teams worry about whether they get there.”

Canada will look to upset England in the first semi-final at Eden Park on Saturday, before home crowd favourites New Zealand take the field against France later on.

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