Pool B preview: Italy the next up to face England’s wrath

RFU’s decision to end funding of reigning World Cup holders rankles with players

Pool B

It is difficult to draw much from England’s first outing and demolition of Spain except that the world number one side are as good as their ranking suggests.

In an English demonstration of the strength-in-depth available to coach Simon Middleton, World Cup 2014 star Emily Scarratt was joined among the replacements by the 124-cap prop Rochelle Clark.

After the match coach Middleton pointed to a strategic process for a tournament where the recovery time is brutally short and enduring five matches in 16 days demands a science of its own.

Their strategy against Italy, who lost 24-12 to USA in the opening match, is likely to continue that way as they churn their squad over, lightening the player load on everyone before the anticipated knockout phase.

The backdrop to the England players is the P45 that awaits them as the RFU shift their focus to sevens and ultimately the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, when this tournament is over.

It has been a feature of this World Cup that the sevens game has begun to take precedence in women’s rugby with many of the national federations including those in Australia and Canada as well as England directing funding money towards the shorter version of the game because of its Olympic status.

The most extreme example has been Australia, who focussed almost all of their resources on Rio and came away with a sevens gold medal but since the last XV’s World Cup have only played five Test matches. Quite astonishing.

Because this tournament represents the end of their 15-a-side contracts, England’s dander is up and there is a drive to challenge the blazers who pulled the rug and show that if the richest union in the world wants World Cup trophies, it needs to keep players professionally involved.

Italy on Sunday and the USA next Thursday are likely to feel the freight of the English women’s disappointment and their World Cup has become as much a political struggle as a tournament to win.

Who is it in Twickenham towers decides to cut the funding of a England team that has just won the World Cup?

Italy face that furious determination which is burning within the England squad. They have been insulted and made feel unwanted by their own union and are now formulating an answer. That should draw concern from the Italians and Americans in the coming days.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times