‘Boring’ England ready to laugh off criticism in World Cup bid with Sarah Hunter to become most-capped player

Record-breaker: Sarah Hunter will earn her 138th England cap against Australia in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final clash  (PA)
Record-breaker: Sarah Hunter will earn her 138th England cap against Australia in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final clash (PA)

The most dominant team in Test history have muscled inexorably into the World Cup knockout phase in New Zealand, and yet there are still those who wait to be entertained.

England have somehow sharpened their already razor-crisp driving maul further still, most notably in crushing South Africa 75-0 to set up Sunday’s quarter-final with Australia.

The Red Roses can extend their all-time Test record winning streak to 29 matches this weekend and captain Sarah Hunter will become England’s most-capped international — man or woman — with her 138th Test in the last-eight tussle in Auckland.

Records keep tumbling for this squad, and yet Simon Middleton’s side have still had to laugh off some absurd criticism. Those who still wait to be entertained reckon England’s World Cup progress has been tiresome. Those who have been there, done that and actually won the World Cup, meanwhile, think entirely differently. Giselle Mather lifted the World Cup with England in 1994, and has since become one of the sport’s smartest coaches and brightest thinkers.

“I understand that people have been saying ‘boring, boring, boring’, but we have to acknowledge how fantastic England are right now,” Ealing Trailfinders director of women’s rugby Giselle Mather told Standard Sport.

“They are setting the standard. Yes, they have resources, but they are showing that by putting those resources into the women’s game that you get the product back, so let’s celebrate that. They are a beacon.

“When you go into battle, you have to play to your strengths. I am a coach that loves to see the ball flying about, however, we are now talking about [the] World Cup. The point of the World Cup is to win it! You don’t put in all that investment not to take it seriously.

“They are making their major weapon even more powerful. They obliterated South Africa up front, and earned the right to go wide. England are setting the standards. Whether they will win the World Cup or not, who knows, but they are setting the standards.”

A successful England side will always garner detractors, but after decades of fighting for funding and focus on the women’s game, Mather insists this is not the time to knock investment and commitment now that both are finally here.

“This is a chance to look at what’s out there and go ‘wow’, and be very proud of that investment,” she said. “People may say, ‘oh, England are fully professional’ but England led the way. Whoever’s leading the way, everyone wants to knock down. The team that sets the standard, everyone has to push towards.”

Australia’s main threat in Auckland will likely come from sniping scrum-half Iliseva Batibasaga (AFP via Getty Images)
Australia’s main threat in Auckland will likely come from sniping scrum-half Iliseva Batibasaga (AFP via Getty Images)

Hunter considers her impending record “the thing I am most proud of in my life”, while the depth of squad is underscored by Poppy Cleall gearing up for her 61st cap from the bench. The Wallaroos will pose threats across the field, notably from powerful and sniping scrum-half Iliseva Batibasaga.

England might have cruised past South Africa and remain favourites not just to see off Australia but also to win the whole competition. But any Antipodean rivalry ought to strike a note of pause into the English.

“Look at England being beaten by Ireland in the cricket, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Okay, there were umpteen factors, but that can happen in a World Cup too,” said Mather.

“There are so many what-ifs in elite sport, so England have to produce a performance in every area. Australia have got nothing to lose, and that’s dangerous.”