England and France lay down a marker for Rugby World Cup 2021
Momentum is firmly behind pre-Rugby World Cup 2021 favourites England after they extended their winning run to 24 tests – a record for matches involving full World Rugby member teams – with a 52-14 win over USA in front of another five-figure crowd at Sandy Park in Exeter.
10,907 fans turned out on Saturday to see Simon Middleton’s side show just why they are highly fancied to sweep all before them in New Zealand and be crowned world champions for a third time, having previously lifted the trophy in 1994 and 2014.
Jess Breach, Claudia MacDonald and Amy Cokayne scored twice each, with Natasha Hunt and Ellie Kildunne also touching down.
At one point the Red Roses led 45-0 but yellow cards a couple of minutes apart to Shaunagh Brown and Helena Rowland midway through the final quarter slowed progress and allowed the Women’s Eagles to score two consolation tries.
Prop Hope Rogers maintained her prolific try-scoring rate of late with the first before Rob Cain’s team were awarded a penalty try late on.
England's second Rugby World Cup 2021 warm-up match is against Wales in Bristol on 14 September and head coach Simon Middleton will announce his 32-player squad six days later.
The Red Roses are in Pool C at RWC 2021, with fixtures against France, South Africa and Fiji to come.
The Exeter match was USA’s last hit-out before they take their place alongside Canada, Italy and Japan in Pool B and came on the back of a 21-17 confidence-building win against Scotland the week before.
“We always knew the final score may not be in our favour but there were a lot of small successes throughout the whole match – at scrum time and lineout time, I think you saw the growth and the work we put in the last few weeks in camp,” said Women’s Eagles captain Kate Zachary.
Tale of two halves for France
Meanwhile, France’s imperious record against Italy on home soil continued in Nice with Les Bleues enjoying a 21-0 win at Stade des Arboras.
All of the home side's points came in the first half an hour thanks to three converted tries from Laure Sansus, Celine Ferer and Annaëlle Deshayes
It was Italy’s 11th straight defeat in the fixture and the sixth time in eight visits to France that they have been kept scoreless by Les Bleues.
Neither of the weekend’s results had any impact on the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini given that both England and France were expected to beat lower-ranked opposition even before home advantage was factored in.
So with only four warm-up tests to go before the big kick-off in Auckland on 8 October, the Red Roses will more than likely head to Rugby World Cup 2021 with a sizeable lead at the top of the rankings.
It was a different story ahead of the 2017 tournament, which New Zealand went on to win after a brilliant 41-32 victory against England in the final in Belfast, when less than half a point separated the Red Roses from their rivals.
England’s current history-making run, which dates back to a defeat to the Black Ferns in July 2019, has helped the Red Roses put clear water between themselves and the chasing pack in the lead-up to the latest edition of the tournament.
As things stand, England have a 7.20-point advantage over reigning world champions New Zealand with France a further 1.66 points adrift.
England are number one in the rankings on 96.78 points – 4.32 more points than they had with a month to go to RWC 2017 – while New Zealand have 2.41 points fewer this time around.