What does one of international rugby’s most successful teams look like? Look no further than England’s Red Roses, bidding for World Cup glory in New Zealand and hoping to dethrone the hosts, who also happen to be the champions.
Coming into this tournament, England are, of course, the favourites. Unbelievably, they have gone a record 25 Test matches unbeaten.
Even more impressive, they’ve annihilated every single opponent. England’s defence have conceded an average of eight points, stopping their opponents from actually scoring six times and have an average winning margin of nearly 40 points.
They’ve managed to build a squad that can rotate without the quality dropping. Take, for example, 2014 World Cup winner, Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt. Simon Middleton, England’s coach, left her experience, talent, and skillset at home and brought in hungry and young talent.
Inclusions such as Maud Muir, an explosive and dynamic forward, flanker Sadia Kabeya and fastly developing hooker Connie Powell. The average age between these three is 20. It’s not as if these three are being thrown into the deep end. Throughout Test matches and Six Nations campaigns, they have already shown they are ready and capable.
This winning streak and this incredible group of players didn’t just happen by accident. This is all part of the RFU’s strategy to grow the game before the 2025 World Cup scheduled to take place in England, with the hopes being rugby can replicate what football did for the country.
Cast your minds back to 2017, a miserable night in Belfast, where England were outclassed, bullied and dominated by New Zealand as they claimed their fifth title with an emphatic 41-32 win.
At the time, the RFU dedicated their resources to a split model, similar to the one adopted by the IRFU. Resources were split between the Sevens and the XVs program, meaning players drifted between squads, developed parts of their game that weren’t needed for the other. It helped prevent them from growing weary of rugby after dedicating themselves to an Olympics and a World Cup, both within a year of each other.
Professionalisation was a significant milestone and completely changed the women’s game in England. Within 18 months of signing professional contracts they overtook New Zealand and became world number one. On the way to this World Cup, they absolutely smashed New Zealand and took revenge to a new level.
England have now found a happy medium. Instead of focusing solely on the best available talent, they’ve developed a program to complement the talent and develop prodigies.
The investment, from 2017-2027, will cost £222 million. With projected revenues of £174 million, the RFU says it will make up the remaining £48 million shortfall required.
The plan doesn’t come cheap but aims to get more than 60,000 girls engaged in rugby through the CBRE All Schools, while an additional 80,000 girls will play through the Youth Sports Trust School Games. It also aims to ensure the broadcasting of Premier 15 games and ensure there will be over 560 teams catering to women interested in rugby while raising player salaries.
That’s not to saw everything has run smoothly. Fiona Thomas of the Telegraph reported how the women’s team were flown economy class to New Zealand in a journey that took over 28 hours.
In contrast, the English men’s team were treated to first-class protein meals and snacks on their flight to Australia for their Test series. The RFU pointed out that, for the time being, concessions had to be made because the women’s programme was still running at a loss.
Let’s not end on a sour note. Our near neighbours are vying to create history, push on the women’s game and, by demolishing every opponent on the way, potentially encourage other rugby unions to replicate what the RFU have done.
Ireland won’t be there due to a series of calamities both on and off the field. But hopefully, the IRFU can see what can be achieved if all parties are willing to collaborate and create a strategic plan to coincide with the 43 new women’s contracts announced earlier this year.
The upcoming World Cup might just show the giant chasm between investment and ignorance.