England captain Sarah Hunter vowed the Red Roses will play “without fear” when they challenge holders New Zealand for the World Cup trophy on Saturday.
The showpiece between the world’s top two nations is poised to break an attendance record, with over 40,000 ticket-holders expected to descend on Auckland’s sold-out Eden Park.
History is on the line for both sides in the rematch of the 2017 final. A loss would see number-one ranked England snap a 30-game Test win streak, the most of any men’s or women’s international side, while the Black Ferns are seeking a record sixth title and their first on home soil.
“I just think there’s that real sense of wanting to be together and about what this group want to go and do on Saturday, and just go in and play without fear,” said number eight Hunter.
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“There’s things in life you don’t get to do very often, and very few people get to do, and that’s to play in a World Cup final.
“For people just to be themselves and to enjoy it – if you don’t enjoy playing in the biggest occasions then you’re in the wrong place.
“We just want people to be in that, and just go enjoy themselves, play without fear, without what the pressure of what will be because there’s one thing for sure: we’ve seen with this group that whatever they do in games they’ll put their best version out.
“We’ll be as best as we can be, we’ll give it everything. In sport things don’t always go your way, but we’ll look back and know we have done everything we can do on Saturday, regardless of the result, and we can be proud of that.”
England head coach Simon Middleton has made five changes to the line-up that beat Canada in the semi-final.
Helena Rowland sustained a foot injury in that match and will be replaced by Harlequins’ Ellie Kildunne at full-back, while her club team-mate Vickii Cornborough gets the nod at loose-head prop following a knee injury to Hannah Botterman in training last week.
“(Botterman) has been amazing, how she’s supported the team,” said Middleton. “As soon as she had the injury she knew she wasn’t going to take any further part, and it was like, ‘What can I do?’’
Middleton has also elected to start Holly Aitchison at inside centre in place of Tatyana Heard, who is among the substitutes.
Claudia MacDonald also begins on the bench with Abby Dow making the switch from right to left wing, while Lydia Thompson returns on the right.
While the hosts are set to enjoy unprecedented support, Middleton believes the electric atmosphere at Eden Park could actually better serve his squad.
“I don’t think it will be (intimidating),” he said. “I honestly don’t think it will. You can look at it in two ways: I think it will be more intimidating for New Zealand.
“To lose in front of your home crowd is a tough gig. So the pressure on them is absolutely massive.
“We said right at the start, the opportunity that the competition gave us is exactly the opportunity that’s now in front of us. Very rarely in life do you get an opportunity to be the best you can be or try and achieve the ultimate and test yourself.
“We’re really fortunate that we’ve now got that scenario. That’s why we’re looking forward to it so much.”
England: E Kildunne (Harlequins), L Thompson (University of Worcester Warriors), E Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), H Aitchison (Saracens), A Dow (Wasps), Z Harrison (Saracens), L Infante (Saracens), V Cornborough (Harlequins), A Cokayne (Harlequins), S Bern (Bristol Bears), Z Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), A Ward (Bristol Bears), A Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury), M Packer (Saracens), S Hunter (Loughborough Lightning, captain)
Replacements: L Davies (Bristol Bears), M Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), S Brown (Harlequins), C O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), P Cleall (Saracens), S Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), C MacDonald (Exeter Chiefs), T Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury)