England ready to conquer the world after Grand Slam success

Julian Bennetts
The Telegraph
England women won their first Grand Slam in five years - 2017 Getty Images
England women won their first Grand Slam in five years - 2017 Getty Images

There is an English rugby team perfectly set for a crack at World Cup glory later this year but for once it is not Eddie Jones’s side sweeping all before them but rather the women’s team who claimed their first Grand Slam in five years on Friday night.

They did so thanks to a comprehensive 34-7 win over Ireland, who will host the World Cup in August, and on a raucous bus journey back to the team hotel thoughts immediately turned to retaining the trophy they won in 2014.

Emily Scarratt, who scored the fourth try in Donnybrook, and Sarah Hunter stayed on in Dublin to return that trophy to the tournament hosts on Saturday but there is a growing confidence it will only be on loan as the women’s side look well set to steal Jones’s thunder, for once.

“The World Cup is the biggie for us,” says Scarratt, who finished as top scorer in the championship. “It had been a little while since we had last won a slam so this is really special, and heading towards the World Cup this is a huge stepping stone for us. 

<span>Emily Scarratt scores against Ireland</span>
Emily Scarratt scores against Ireland

“Coming off this we are now in a really good place and confidence is high, but we aren’t naive to think we are the finished article. But if you peak heading into the World Cup that’s no bad thing, is it?

“Certainly the last couple of years have not been easy and they have been full of ups and downs and challenges along the way, but we have got over the line and now we head towards the World Cup.”

The challenges Scarratt refers to are the difficulties the team went through after their 2014 World Cup victory with the departure of coach Gary Street shortly after that triumph as England struggled badly the following year.

Yet, after the emergence of a new generation there is genuine hope for the future, which might help explain why the celebrations were so long and so loud on Friday night as the women followed the men’s under-20 team – who beat Ireland on the same pitch before the women took the field – by securing a Grand Slam.

England vs New Zealand

“We were staying in the same hotel as the under-20s so we saw them off before their game,” says Scarratt. “They won the slam and then during their celebrations they stood arm in arm when the anthems were playing before our game, which was really cool.

“To have three England teams going for slams on the same weekend speaks for itself, and it unifies you all as you are all striving for the same thing. To see the under-20s do it and then for us to follow it was amazing.

“We were getting group messages from the boys [in the men’s senior team] as well, which was nice. Billy Vunipola was leading it, although some others were sending messages in the background as well. It feels like you are in a wider England rugby squad.

“To win the slam was right up there as an achievement, one of our most special ones, and the celebrations afterwards were great. There was lots of singing on the bus, and we grabbed a few parents to take back with us so there were a few interlopers on there as well. Izzy Noel-Smith is a good singer, she is always up there leading the charge. 

Whos on the plane?

“We saw the under-20s lads later and there are a few sore heads knocking around today, but it was great to be part of that larger squad together.”

And there is a sense that England may be celebrating again come August after unearthing talents such as 20-year-old hooker Amy Cokayne, who scored five tries in as many matches, and the emergence of flanker Marlie Packer.

“As a team we have a really good balance,” adds Scarratt. “We have front-rowers who can handle the ball exceptionally well, we can keep the ball, and we have some serious running threat as well.

“The women’s game in England is so strong. There is a new Super League being introduced in September, which will be great for developing a broader strength in the country. This Six Nations has proved where the elite team is and club rugby is going strong. It’s brilliant for us.”

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