USA Women fired up for Nations Cup challenge
They may take on defending champions England in their opening Women's Nations Cup match in Canada next month, but USA are "fired up to put it all together" as they begin the year-long road to Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 in London.
The Women's Eagles have qualified directly for next year's showpiece - as have the other four teams involved in the 2009 Women's Nations Cup - and have been working hard to give them the best possible chance of bettering their fifth place finish in the last Women's Rugby World Cup in Canada.
"The athletes are fired up to put it all together," explained USA Rugby's Women's High Performance Manager Alex Williams. "They are ready to stand up and show the world that results of the hard work they've been putting in for the last three years and to kick off the year-long road to the World Cup with some victories at the Nations Cup."
USA will meet England at Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario, on 10 August before sitting out match day two and then tackling South Africa on 16 August, Canada three days later and France on 22 August, the latter at Fletcher's Field in Markham.
Kathy Flores' side have never met South Africa before, while seven years have passed since their last encounter with France at the 2002 Women's Rugby World Cup in Amsterdam. USA also have the added motivation of avenging last month's 25-17 defeat by Canada in a one-off Test.
"We've made some changes in our roster after the Can-Am and will be working very hard on our attack," explained Flores. "These changes will include some seven participants who performed well at the Can-Am and we look forward to working with them to round out our squad.
"We've got four matches, with an opener against England, so we need to hit the ground running. Having played England many times in the last two years, we both know each other well, so the challenge will be to become less predictable."
England, the runners up in the last two Women's Rugby World Cups, have included only new cap in their squad to defend the Nations Cup title they won with a clean sweep against USA and Canada last year in Heather Fisher, who impressed at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009.
The Nations Cup kicks off a busy 12-month period for England with a two-Test series with world champions New Zealand in November - the second of them forming part of a historic double header between the men's teams at Twickenham - followed by the Women's Six Nations and then the World Cup on home soil in London from August-September 2010.
"This is a really strong squad and it has been hard making the final cut of 26 players, but I believe we will be going to Canada in a very strong position," said England head coach Gary Street.
"Heather is the only uncapped player and she will add physicality and strength to our game against some physically tough opposition like France and South Africa. We are lucky to have so many talented flankers, like Maggie Alphonsi, who's unavailable through injury, and Sonia Green and Jane Leonard. It's been nice to have these selection dilemmas.
"The Nations Cup is the start of a long and important season for us and all the players know that this is their chance to make their mark for the 12 months ahead.
"It's very exciting that South Africa and France have joined the tournament. France are one of the toughest sides we play in the Six Nations while South Africa have really improved as a rugby nation, they have most recently shown that in the Sevens.
"Obviously we want to go to Canada to defend our title, but the important thing is that we concentrate on our game, perform to the best of our abilities and keep on improving."
USA Women's squad:
Stacy Baker, Sharon Blaney, Claudia Braymer, Stacey Bridges, Steph Bruce, Jamie Burke, Lisa Butts, Emilie Bydwell, Kate Daley, Amy Daniels, Mel Denham, Farrah Douglas, Ashley English, Victoria Folayan, Blair Groefsema, Mel Kanuk, Ashley Kmiecik, Lynelle Kugler, Kim Magrini, Nathalie Marchino, Vanesha McGee, Jenny Menke, Jillion Potter, Christy Ringgenberg, Beckett Royce, Hannah Stolba, Lara Vivolo, Kitt Wagner, Mari Wallace, Kristin Zdanczewicz.
England Women's squad:
Charlotte Barras, Sarah Beale, Rachael Burford, Rochelle Clark, Rebecca Essex, Heather Fisher, Amy Garnett, Sophie Hemming, Sarah Hunter, Karen Jones, Joanna McGilchrist, Katy McLean, Katherine Merchant, Kimberley Oliver, Fiona Pocock, Claire Purdy, Sam Reeve, Alice Richardson, Georgina Rozario, Emily Scarratt, Gemma Sharples, Catherine Spencer, Katy Storie, Amy Turner, Danielle Waterman.