BY SARAH MOCKFORD
Rapping and dancing. That is what a few of England’s squad were doing on the eve of their opening match in pool B. It was an unusual way to prepare but it paid off because, a few duff notes aside, they looked in great rhythm in putting ten tries past Spain at the University College Dublin ground.
A few eyebrows had been raised by England’s selection. Experienced names such as Rochelle Clark, Emily Scarratt, Natasha Hunt and Tamara Taylor were on the replacements’ bench or missing from the 23. Yet the 12 players who made their World Cup debuts yesterday demonstrated the quality of England’s depth.
Rachael Burford, playing in her fourth World Cup, provided a wise head in midfield and recognises how strong the competition for places is in a side looking for back-to-back world titles.
“The depth and how good the 28 players are — that’s what makes the whole squad a threat,” Burford said after playing a pivotal role in this victory. “No matter what combination is put out it’s strong enough. We’ve played some big games this year and the young players have grown, and the experienced players learn from those guys as well. It’s a really good blend. It’s healthy competition and pushes you to get better.”
Despite the pressures of defending a title, there is time to relax. Burford is sharing a flat on the university’s campus — where all 12 teams are staying — with five of the younger players in the squad and they have been embracing the music of Stormzy, the grime artist, during the tournament. Poppy Cleall, who came off the bench against Spain, is the rapper of the group and apparently has a few decent dance moves too.
Yesterday it was all about rugby moves. The pick of those was Katy Mclean’s crossfield kick to Kay Wilson, which fell into the wing’s hands and resulted in the second of her four tries. “She is so easy to play with,” said Wilson of her try provider. “That was a world-class kick. My job is to score tries but the players around me make my life so much easier.”
It was Megan Jones who kicked things off for England, scything through to touch down after 53 seconds and Wilson had wrapped up her hat-trick by the 32nd minute.
For Spain, Iera Echebarria, the wing, was among those putting in thumping tackles, ones that defied her light frame. They developed their phase play and late in the first half capitalised on a spilt ball to launch a counterattack that resulted in a try for Diano Gasso.
It was not a perfect-ten performance for England despite the ten tries. The scrum did not have the authority that they would have wanted and the attack was often blunt. The next chance they have is on Sunday against Italy — and several changes to the team are likely.