Women’s Rugby World Cup: Key Names to England’s Charge

England's Marlie Packer poses for a selfie with fans two months before the Women's Rugby World Cup

It’s World Cup week! On Saturday, the Red Roses begin their task of winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup for the third time. They enter the tournament as hot favourites and are on an incredible 25-game winning streak! Who though are the players that are crucial to making this England side tick and who will the country look to for those match-winning moments?

England’s Key Names for the Women’s Rugby World Cup

Marlie Packer

The Saracens’ flanker will be one of the leaders in the group with 84 international caps and previous Women’s Rugby World Cup experience as a finalist in 2017 and a winner in 2014. This knowledge of how to win will be crucial in a squad that has 19 players going to just their first tournament.

Packer brings incredible quality to back up that experience which is perhaps best demonstrated by her player-of-the-match performance in the Allianz Premier 15s final this year. She played with relentless physicality on both sides of the ball that the opposition was unable to live with. Moreover, her try-scoring exploits saw her finish the regular season with 14 tries, just two off the top of the leaderboard. The ability of Packer to score tries in the tight exchanges will mean that opposing defences will need to be alert around the ruck which could then lead to space out wide for England’s back to exploit.

Another aspect of Packer’s game that will shine during the Women’s Rugby World Cup is her versatility. Simon Middleton was only allowed to name 32 players in his squad and so players who can cover multiple positions are highly valued. The Saracens were named in the Premier 15s team of the season in her usual position of flanker but played in the final at number 8. This means that should the squad have an injury crisis at the base of the scrum, Packer will be a ready-made solution. Also when selecting a side, the back row cover on the bench can be a specialist flanker as Packer can slide across to 8.

Zoe Harrison

Despite having built enviable depth in many positions, fly-half is somewhere England looks very reliant on one name. Rowland plays at 10 for Loughborough and Aitchison has covered for her clubmate on occasion but Harrison has had the Lion’s share of the jersey for England over the past few seasons.

The counterargument to that point though is that when you are as good as Harrison then why not? Her kicking game is up there with the best in world rugby. In open play, she marches her side around the field and is one of many accomplished goal kickers in the squad. Harrison can score tries herself but her ability to put others into space sets her apart from the rest in her position. Middleton has said they have built a game plan to play around 10 and 12 and the handling skills combined with the vision that Harrison posses are a significant part of that.

This is Harrison’s first time at a Women’s Rugby World Cup but she has no shortage of experience in big games. As a Saracens player, she has won multiple Premierships and started at 10 in three of them, missing the most recent with an injury. This shows she knows how to win in the big moments. Starting in the 2021 final loss to the Harlequins will have taught her what it feels like to lose in these big moments as well. Winning has become a habit of players like Harrison though for both club and country and this relentlessness will go a long way down in New Zealand.

Sarah Hunter

The captain of the squad is going to have a big role to play in the coming weeks. She is the link between the coaches and the players and will be the voice of the team to the referees and the public. England is blessed with the number of leaders they have in the squad but this will be Hunter’s team. With 135 caps Hunter is on course to break the appearance record held by Rocky Clark. This level of experience will be vital in leading a team with so many young faces who do not have these experiences to draw on themselves. Many of England’s players have no experience in a World Cup, much less on winning one so it will be down to the likes of Hunter to show both on the field and in training what it takes.

World Rugby named Hunter the 2016Ā  Women’sĀ  Player of the year. She is an abrasive player who will get England on the front foot. Her style of play is technically excellent while her decision-making is world-class. It is these skills that see her force her way onto the teamsheet. Even players of the calibre of Poppy Cleall have to be moved to accommodate Hunter.

Having sustained a nerve injury in 2020 that kept her out of the game for 13 months, Hunter has played some incredible rugby over the last year. It is this mental strength in adversity that sets her above her peers in the rugby world.

Sarah Bern

Bern has redefined what it means to be a prop. She is not a player that comes on, pushes at the scrum and goes off. The Bristol prop is one of the best ball-carrying forwards in world rugby. Not only does she have incredible strength through contact, but she also picks clever lines that see her breach defences regularly. She is equally comfortable with short-range efforts, 50-metre dashes for the line or sidestepping a player, Bern is a rare attacking talent.

She also has the foundations of a prop to go with her attacking talent. Her scrummaging is high quality and her work rate around the field is excellent. Moreover, Bern can play for the full 80 minutes. This is rare in a front row forward who will usually expect a substitution around the 50-60 minute mark. Bern though can perform at the coalface for an entire game should England require it. England’s performances recently have seen them win by big margins, but if the game becomes close, the ability of players like Bern to be dominant in the forwards will provide crucial opportunities for other players to capitalise.

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England enters this Women’s Rugby World Cup as the favourites

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The Red Roses are changing the game as England Rugby has been at the forefront of professionalizing the game. This has helped England, who rightly goes into this Women’s Rugby World Cup as the favourites, if these players are at their best, it will go a long way to seeing the Red Roses lift the trophy on the 12th of November. However, one amazing part of tournaments like these is that stars can emerge that we have never thought much of before and finish the tournament as the name on everyone’s lips.