By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
Lydia Thompson admits she’s got a scrap on her hands if she wants to secure a seat on England’s star-studded World Cup plane.
Stourbridge star Thompson, 30, forms part of a red-hot roster of wingers at boss Simon Middleton’s disposal bidding to boost their hopes of booking their ticket to New Zealand in next month’s warm-up clashes against USA and Wales.
And despite being named in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations team of the Championship, Thompson knows Middleton has some difficult decisions to make given the quality her teammates are showing in their pre-season camp.
She said: “There’s such a great calibre of players.
“I feel so lucky to be pushed constantly by the back three that we've got.
“Personally, there’s Jess (Breach), an incredible runner with a fantastic all round game, she's constantly pushing me to be a better player.
“Abby Dow is just unstoppable once she's got ball in hand and she's so strong around the park.
“And then you've got Ellie Kildunne and Sarah McKenna. I just wish I had half their skill set a lot of the time, they make it look so easy with such a variety of skills.
“I wouldn't want to be Simon Middleton making those selection decisions!”
Thompson is one of just eight players in the squad to have tasted World Cup success before, having been involved in the side that memorably beat Canada in the 2014 showpiece.
She was then on the scoresheet as England were dethroned by this year’s hosts in 2017, and believes those experiences have helped to make the team’s strategy group - headed up by captain Sarah Hunter and vice-captain Emily Scarratt - an invaluable weapon in the team’s arsenal.
“They are the key members of the team and really the backbone of the team,” she added.
“They will do so much when we’re thinking about how we're going to prepare for game. Then on the pitch, sometimes you need calls to just go back to the basics at times, if you're getting a bit frantic, finding those loose offloads.
“They've got a huge role. We’re definitely indebted (to them), the way we play is because of those guys feeling the game and making some big calls.”
The next step on the road to a potential final at Eden Park comes in Exeter against world No.5 side USA, before a first ever international fixture at Ashton Gate against traditional rivals Wales.
Discounted tickets for the Bristol clash are available with O2 Priority, whose partnership with England's national teams sees them pledge to equally fund the men’s and women’s game.
And Thompson is relishing the chance to lock horns with some familiar faces as preparations for New Zealand ramp up.
“We obviously know USA are going to be physical. They've got a great, athletic team and with Wales, a lot of the girls are playing in the Premier 15s, so we know that they've got a lot of talented players and have grown so much as a team with the full-time contracts,” said Thompson, who was speaking alongside Red Roses teammates Sarah Hunter and Zoe Aldcroft ahead of the clash in Bristol on September 14.
“These are the kind of games where you find out where you’re at, and I think it will give us a really good gauge of where we are going into the New Zealand, going onto that plane.”
Second row Aldcroft, 25, sees the warm-up fixtures as the perfect opportunity to prepare for New Zealand and added: “To get the crowd down at Exeter, which has been amazing in the past and then a new place where we've never been before in Bristol, we’re hoping we can expand our support network leading up to New Zealand and hopefully they’ll be excited by those games and then support us.”
Hunter, 36, said: “Playing for England, it's a real passion, it's a real honour.
“I’m still so motivated to want to improve and to be a better player.
“Playing for England was my dream and there is no tougher opposition than New Zealand.
“Obviously in 2017, they won that game and rightly so, they were the better team. So obviously we’d like to go and right a few wrongs.”
England Rugby’s women’s team, the Red Roses, will be playing their final warm-up game against Wales at Ashton Gate, Bristol, on 14th September 2022, before travelling to New Zealand. Be part of the action and bag discounted Category 1 tickets with O2 Priority. For more information on O2’s partnership, Be part of the action and bag discounted Category 1 tickets with O2 Priority. For more information on O2’s partnership, visit https://www.englandrugby.com/about-rfu/rfu-partners/o2.