Die 2022 Die Wêreldbeker begin Vrydag 'n jaar en Engelse vrouerugby het sy profiel 'n verdere hupstoot gekry met bevestiging dat die rooi rose se herfs toetse regstreeks op aardse televisie uitgesaai word. BBC Two is set to screen all four games in prime Sunday afternoon slots, offering a potentially “huge” benefit to female sport, according to England’s head coach Simon Middleton.
While the name of the outstanding Emily Scarratt, currently recovering from a broken leg, was absent from a 40-strong squad for the upcoming Tests against New Zealand (twice), USA and Canada, die kaptein, Sarah Hunter, feels the next 12 months could be highly significant on and off the field as she and her team prepare for “the biggest World Cup there’s ever been” and seek to showcase the increasing quality of the women’s game.
Hunter, capped 126 times for her country, senses women’s rugby is turning a corner in terms of recognition and is awaiting the day when TV companies fully reflect the change. “Hopefully there’ll be four real quality games to showcase where the women’s game is at," sy het gese. “But we’ve only turned the corner if we don’t have to keep having conversations about how brilliant it is that terrestrial TV are showing the women’s game. We’ll be fully there when it becomes the norm and people expect to see the games.”
The Rugby Football Union’s longer-term ambition is to sell out Twickenham for a women’s international but, for now, healthy crowds are expected to attend the opening two autumn games against New Zealand at Exeter and Northampton, starting at Sandy Park on 31 Oktober. Met 11 uncapped players in England’s squad some new faces will be vying for an opportunity, with Holly Aitchison, Maud Muir, Emma Sing, Connie Powell and Heather Cowell among those equipped to make an impression.
There is no place for the fly-half Meg Jones who has turned down a central contract offer in order to concentrate on sevens but the squad will have the benefit of the returning Sarah Bern, the Bristol front-row who has missed the past year through injury, as well as Alex Matthews and Helena Rowland who represented Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics. Almost half the squad play their club rugby for either Harlequins or Saracens and, according to Middleton, meer as 85% of them have been double jabbed.
One other significant development will be England’s new kit which for the first time is different from the men’s design, and represents a welcome improvement for women’s players who, in sommige gevalle, are still playing club rugby in small-sized men’s kit. “It’s really exciting that we have our own bespoke kit,” said Hunter. “It has its own twist and gives us a slightly different identity to the men. Now the fans can buy it and we can connect with them more easily. I don’t understand why kit suppliers can’t produce women-fit kit [for all teams]. From a performance and comfort point of view it does make a difference … it can be done and hopefully it becomes the norm.”
Intussen, in the men’s Premiership, Marcus Smith will make his first appearance of the season off the bench for Harlequins when they host Bristol beneath the Friday night lights at the Stoop. The England and Lions fly-half was instrumental in sinking Bristol’s campaign in last season’s dramatic semi-final, when the Bears relinquished a 28-0 lead, and Quins senior coach Tabai Matson is expecting a Bristol backlash. “We know that will probably have been a pebble under Bristol’s beach towel over the summer,” said Matson. “This should be a fantastic encounter with two sides who play a massively positive brand of rugby.”