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By Paul Eddison
Red Roses boss Simon Middleton claimed that France in France is as tough as it gets in women’s rugby, so after England clinched the Grand Slam, it is hard to look past them for this autumn’s World Cup.
They have won a record 23 consecutive matches and swept all before them since 2019. It is not a foregone conclusion that they will emulate the team of 2014 but they are rightly red-hot favourites to take the title back from New Zealand.
A 24-12 win in Bayonne was as close as any team has come to troubling them, but the gap to France appears to have widened. That is now ten wins on the spin against Les Bleues, and while some on that run were fortunate, Saturday’s was a controlled, clinical display.
The only worry for England is that they perhaps have less margin for growth, being fully professional is a massive advantage, but perhaps less so in the build-up to a World Cup where other teams will have more time together.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 1, 2022
Middleton’s biggest challenge is going to be slimming down his squad, with depth that other countries can only dream of. Even so, he will be desperate to see Abby Dow return from the broken leg she suffered against Wales, she was arguably England’s in-form back before injury.
As for France? Well they are probably still England’s biggest challengers in New Zealand, depending on how the Black Ferns get on under new coach Wayne Smith.
Les Bleues will need to solve their lineout issues which proved costly on Saturday, while a fit-again Pauline Bourdon would make a big difference, even if she might have to switch from scrum-half to fly-half because of Laure Sansus’ form.
Psychologically, it will take a lot for them to truly believe they can beat this England team however.
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