So horrific was Abby Dow’s leg break during this year’s Six Nations that at one point, she was using five different machines during her recovery in a desperate attempt to be fit in time for the World Cup.
Emily Ross, the Red Roses’ lead physio, even sat in on the surgery the winger underwent to obtain a forensic understanding of what she was dealing with.
As head coach Simon Middleton recently quipped, Ross and the entire medical team “practically moved in with her” as they plotted Dow’s path to the World Cup.
It was clearly worth it - because the 25-year-old is almost back to her frightening best. Middleton suggested that much after naming Dow on the bench for his side’s World Cup opener against Fiji at Eden Park on Saturday.
“Every session she gets better,” said the England head coach. “It’s quite remarkable what the medics have done and it’s not by chance the amount of effort they’ve put in has been incredible. I said to Emily [Ross] yesterday, ‘She looks like Abby Dow again now.’
“She scored a couple of tries in training yesterday and she puts the fear of god into defenders in front of her. Before she got injured she was the best finisher in world rugby. To get back from where she's been is incredible - enjoying it is the most important thing.”
Middleton conceded it was a “bigger gamble not to take her” when including Dow in his World Cup squad last month and remains confident she can rediscover the rich vein of form she was enjoying before her cruel setback. In a measure of the winger’s prolificacy, over the course of England’s 25-match winning streak, she has ranked top for metres made, as well as the number of defenders beaten.
Dow’s determination to complete what would be a miraculous comeback - having squeezed a nine-month prognosis into just six - underpins the hunger of this England side.
Another glowing example is Sadia Kabeya, the 20-year-old pocket rocket of a flanker who has impressed since bursting onto the international scene a year ago and will start in place of Marlie Packer, who has been left out as a precaution with a foot niggle. The Saracens player was seen wearing a protective boot on her leg while sightseeing around Auckland earlier this week and Middleton is likely to earmark her for England’s second group game against France next week.
Kabeya has echoes of a young Maggie Alphonsi, chopping down opposition players at any opportunity. There is a part in the new ITV documentary ‘Wear the Rose: An England Rugby Dream’ - which charts the Red Roses’ World Cup journey - where Middleton, along with forwards coach Louis Deacon and backs coach Scott Bemand, marvels at the 36 tackles the youngster made during England’s World Cup warm-up game against the USA.
There appears to be no better occasion to let her loose against Fiji, a team for whom the World Cup will be a learning experience more than anything else. Despite playing fewer test matches in the last five years than any of the other teams in the tournament, they have cemented themselves as the leading Pacific Island women’s Test nation, having won the last two Oceania Championships.
They also exploded onto Australia’s inter-state Super W competition earlier this year, where they entered as a guest team and won and have proved a popular addition to this year’s World Cup.
“We're going to be the bad guys on Saturday,” said Middleton. "They're probably going to want an open, flowing game based around a bit of carnage. We want to try and bring them under control." It is hard to see his side doing anything but that.