World Cup Draw reactions with Sarah Hunter and Simon Middleton
The news all Red Roses fans have been waiting for is out, we now know who the team will face of against in the group stage of next year’s World Cup and it’s made this weekend an even more spicy affair! England have drawn old enemies France in their group as well as rising talents South Africa and perennial world cup wildcards Fiji who will bring their usual flair and unpredictability. We caught up with head coach Simon Middleton and captain Sarah Hunter to find out their reactions.
“I was having a conversation with my mum this morning and I just had this gut feeling we were going to be drawn against France” Sarah says, beaming at the opportunity. “It’s one of our rival teams that we have regular encounters with, they’re always really hard-fought, really entertaining games for the neutral and I’ve got no doubts it will be the same at the World Cup. We played them in the semi final at the last one and it was probably one of the most physically demanding games I’ve played in! As a player you want to be challenged by facing the best teams and France are one of the best in the world!”
“It was great to have interaction with past players, current players, the prime minister! [Jacinta Ardern] is such an icon not just in her country but around the world in terms of how she has handled the pandemic!” Seeing New Zealand’s prime minister not only host the draw, but take evident pride in spotlighting women’s sport, was a highlight for everyone viewing and Hunter certainly thinks it bodes well for the competition itself next year. “If that’s the draw, how bis is the tournament going to be? As a player nd as a team you want to go and play on the biggest stage and you’ve got a feeling this could be the biggest World Cup we’ve seen in the women’s game!”
“I’ll echo what Sarah said, the draw was fantastic. If that’s a taste of things to come you don’t want to miss the World Cup!” Echoes Middleton enthusiastically. “[In camp] there’s lots of chat, I’d imagine lots of social media, but I don’t do it so I don’t know… The experienced players give a few nods and looks to each other so you get a bit of a feel for them and they see it’s a new slant on the game at the weekend now. Then the young players are bouncing off the walls because it’s a World Cup and they have no idea what to expect. I asked Ellie Kildunne what sd=he thought and her eyes were like saucers. I asked her what she knew about Fiji and she said ‘they just smash you, I know that!’. There’s a really good buzz around the room, we’re excited already!”
England played South Africa in a pair of games a couple of years back and won the first handily. In the second the South African side came back hard and the Red Roses had to fight for the win so they are a side on the rise and have bags of potential. Fiji are better known for their sevens performances. Simon and many of his team will have faced them and their physicality in that format a number of times.
“We’re not going to be able to show off the World Cup move we’ve been practicing now” Simon says, laughing as we ask about the game this weekend. “We’ve just cancelled our world cup warm up games against France. What a fantastic cherry on the cake for the game”
The draw is notable in that there is a spicy rivalry in each of the three pools, with New Zealand drawing Australia and Canada being selected alongside the USA as well as England and France facing off. Those rivalries transcend rugby and I suspect they’ll be very beneficial in attracting casual fans to tune in. Hunter seems to agree. “People like to watch games with stories linked to them” she tells me. “People are familiar with the New Zealand – Australia rivalry or United States versus Canada. There will be other European teams in some of the pools that will make those interesting too, but we don’t want people to just be tuning in to support their nation, we want people to support women’s rugby as a whole and want to tune in to watch the sport, so they watch the England games because they’re supporters but then as rugby fans want to stick around for New Zealand v Australia too because they’re interested in that. The draw meets those requirements I think… as a player involved in the World Cup I’ll be excited to see those games happen and to watch the hype and the build up around it. I think it could be a pretty special World Cup!”
If Simon and Sarah are this excited, we can be pretty sure it should be one to watch. We’ll work hard over the coming months to keep you up to date with players across the teams as we build up to the big event, but in the meantime England face off against France tomorrow at Twickenham Stadium and for the first time we will be brining you a report from the game so check back over the weekend for that and follow Matt Merritt on twitter and Instagram for updates throughout the day!