The Girl: Women’s Rugby World Cup Preview

England will face New Zealand in the World Cup final of women’s rugby on Saturday in what promises to be a thrilling encounter between two excellent teams. England go in as the odds-on favorites after thrashing France in the semis, but New Zealand will represent extremely dangerous opposition and it looks like it’s developing into a very close match. History is against this England side as New Zealand have beaten the English on all three previous occasions they have met in the World Cup final, but Simon Middleton’s women should feel positive about their chances of ending that hoodoo at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Saturday.

Middleton was emphatic in his praise of the team following their 20-3 crushing of France in the semi-finals. “It was game befitting of a World Cup semi-final,” he said. “France have been incredible in this tournament and we’ve seen both sides of them with the flair, but they showed their toughness. We had to fight every inch of the way but I’m absolutely thrilled. We said at half-time if we were patient and we kept the tempo up, tweaked what we were doing a little bit and were patient in the 22 we would get on top of them. We dominated the second-half, or large periods of it, and it was testament to France’s defense that they were in the game right until the end.”

England have been rampant in this tournament. They annihilated Spain, Italy and the USA before destroying France, and they deserve to be the favorites going into the game.

Glenn Moore’s team have been similarly dominant in this tournament, easily dispatching Wales, Hong Kong and Canada in route to a semi-final showdown with the USA, which they won 45-12. “You’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” said back Kelly Brazier. “England will be tough at set piece, the rolling maul and lineout, they are strong there. They won’t change that, they will draw us in before spinning it out wide. We have hit our straps at this end of the tournament and as long as we do our jobs, we should get the job done.”

New Zealand also have a fearsome weapon in winger Portia Woodman, the tournament’s top try scorer with 13. The next highest scoring player at the World Cup is Canada’s Magali Harvey, who has just six tries, so that shows how brilliant Woodman has been. New Zealand will be aiming to win their fifth World Cup title, but England are the defending champions after beating Canada back in 2014.

They will be under a huge amount of pressure in Belfast on Saturday, but they thrive on that and it will be a great opportunity to end a run of three consecutive final defeats to New Zealand, in 2002, 2006 and 2010. England have the star quality to make it happen, particularly the sensational Emily Scarratt, while the kicking of Katy McLean has been brilliant and they have plenty of experienced players that know what it takes to win at this level. New Zealand have played some fantastic rugby in this tournament and they will be a real threat with Woodman rampaging down the wing, but this talented and tough England team can repel that threat and gain a narrow victory in this one.

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