Super Series Last Round Preview: England v New Zealand – France v USA

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No more tension, please!

England’s team:
15. Sarah McKenna
14. Lydia Thompson
13. Emily Scarratt
12. Emily Scott
11. Claudia Macdonald
10. Zoe Harrison
9. Leanne Riley
1. Vickii Cornborough
2. Lark Davies
3. Sarah Bern
4. Catherine O’Donnell
5. Abbie Scott
6. Poppy Cleall
7. Marlie Packer
8. Sarah Hunter (capt)

Bench
16. Heather Kerr
17. Ellena Perry
18. Hannah Botterman
19. Zoe Aldcroft
20. Sarah Beckett
21. Amber Reed
22.Millie Wood
23. Kelly Smith

Just two surprises in this selection: Kelly Smith gets a rest on the bench as Claudia Macdonald debuts on the wing. Emily Scott does make a belated entrance in the No 12 shirt after a late change delayed that option against Canada. It’s most unusual to find two players taking up such unfamiliar positions together. These choices mean three three-quarters sit on the bench, but no scrum-half.

Can we stand any more of these close finishes? It’s more than a weak heart can take.

The two remaining games present a strong contrast: England v New Zealand and France v USA.

France would probably have been happy to trade England’s programme for theirs. If they’d faced the hosts in the first round, would they have faltered twice in three matches? Their win against the Black Ferns was the stand-out result of the series, but their showings against Canada and England finished in frustration.

Yes, this tournament is only a trial-run for the Big One in 2021, but valuable brownie points are being won here.

England on the other hand have the clinching fixture still ahead of them, the one they’ve been aiming towards ever since the schedule was published. They haven’t been at their best thus far. Maybe it just reflects the quality of the opposition on show; they’ve had to work desperately hard to win two of their three games. That takes a lot of sap out of you, despite the glow of victory on your face.

There have been weaknesses in defence, not least when turnovers catch them out of position. The Boujard try down the blind-side was a worry. The scrum, set on France’s left, swung to leave England’s back-row infield. Hermet drew the tattered remains of the defence line before off-loading to her winger. Boujard side-stepped Lydia Thompson with worrying ease – this is the winger who played Portia Woodman off the park in June 2017 – and the front-row had hardly disengaged before she was over.

The driving maul has been hard work. Perhaps sides are working out legal methods of countering it, but far too often it has broken down before completion.

England were penalised all over the field, at the set scrum, the line-out, the breakdown, in attack and in defence. France finished with thirteen players on the pitch against New Zealand; that isn’t an option England can afford.

The Black Ferns have had their own weaknesses revealed. They have lost some of their most eminent players to retirement, but Glenn Moore must surely have expected to see his pack take command up front. If they still had Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali operating at first five-eighth, opponents might have been quaking in their boots. Kendra Cocksedge is a very special player, but not even she could produce the results her side needed against France. And the outside backs haven’t yet proved world-beaters. Perhaps they’re saving that up for Round Five.

They will be ready for the ploys England have shown thus far, so let’s hope they’re working on new variations.

The USA are a team in the making – that is Rob Cain’s official policy; he may not have expected them to gain a single victory but the win over Canada showed how successful his approach is. He keeps encouraging his players for the (sometimes tiny) advances they make in their game-management. At their best they showed they could well trouble the five nations ranked above them, especially if they find some of the Sevens stars returning to bolster the player-choice.

The same goes for the four other nations, of course. Despite the quality on view in California, the addition of the cream of the World Series Sevens players would make the next World Cup a never-to-be-forgotten occasion.

England haven’t yet shown that they can be short-odds favourites to beat the Black Ferns. It will be a major surprise if France succumb to the Eagles.

This is how the table stands after four rounds:

Final Table

Team

W

L

B

Pts

England

3

0

1

13

New Zealand

2

1

2

10

Canada

1

3

3

7

France

1

2

1

5

USA

1

2

0

4

If New Zealand win, they reach 14 points (or 15 with a 4-try bonus). If England lose, the best they can achieve is 15 points with a 4-try bonus and a losing bonus for a margin of 7 points or less. Simple!

Curiously, at the moment England stand in first place in world rankings, but the updated version doesn’t appear till Monday; so second it is.

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