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The new faces of English rugby

• Posted in Rugby Union • By JoeBaker

It was a spectacular summer for women’s sport in this country. There was Jo Konta’s run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, a Bronze medal for the hockey team during the European Championships, the footballers reaching the semi-final of their European Championships and of course the brilliant cricket World Cup win.

In terms of the impact on a specific sport though, the 2017 Rugby World Cup was a watershed moment for the women’s game in England. Ultimately, Simon Middleton’s side fell just short in what was a remarkable final against New Zealand, losing 32-41. It was a gripping 11-try spectacle that ebbed and flowed; characterised by power, speed, skill and some quality finishing. The Black Fearns coming from behind to score 32 second-half points, leaving the Red Roses wondering what an earth had happened. It meant England lost the trophy they earnt at the last World Cup, with New Zealand crowned World Champions for the 5th time – 4 of those titles have been won by beating England. 

It was a fitting end to a great tournament, the two best teams both performing and going toe to toe until the very last. And, with the match played out at a packed stadium in Belfast and live on prime-time TV, it was the best demonstration yet of just how much talent there is in this England team. There were numerous England players who shone during a tournament in which the Red Roses clocked up over 200 points. Here we look at those who are now well and truly in the national sporting consciousness.

Emily Scarratt

If you hadn’t heard about Emily Scarratt before, you surely do now. The player who was invaluable during England’s triumph in 2014, when she scored 16 points in the final and was the tournament’s top scorer, was crucial yet again in her sides run to the final. The outside centre was immaculate with her kicking off the tee, when finding territory and when releasing pressure from deep, whilst she also showed her versatility by reverting to full back in the final and excelling. She was integral to everything good England did in attack and defence, being second in the overall points scoring charts and kicking more penalties than anyone else. A Sevens specialist who captained Team GB at the Rio Olympics, watch out for Scarratt’s attacking talents at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next year.

Sarah Hunter

A team needs a captain who leads by example and Sarah Hunter certainly does – the MBE she received two years ago for her services to ruby is testament to that. The number 8 skilfully held what was an impossing England pack together and demonstrated why she was voted as the 2016 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year. Many have stated how Hunter’s unselfish and committed style of play makes it easier for her teammates to look better. She has been referred to as the ‘glue player’ in the squad. Her decision-making, defensive organisation and disruption, mauling and pitch coverage are second to none. Aged 31, and already on an astonishing 98 international caps, Hunter is almost certain to become an international centurion, both in appearances and points scored. This World Cup emphasised just what an important player she continues to be for her country.

Amy Cokayne

Brought up playing in New Zealand, Amy Cokayne plays with the dynamism you’d expect from a Black Fearns forward. The 21-year-old hooker took her Six Nations form, during which she became only the second front row forward in the tournaments history to score a hat-trick, to Ireland this summer. She crossed the line in all the Pool matches, whilst only four people managed more than her 35 carries, revealing her invaluable ability to get over the gain line, smashing holes in defensives and laying platforms for attacks. It simply is not normal to see a hooker with so much electrifying speed and slick handling skills. The amount of potential she has to progress even further is frightening. With the likes of Cokayne lining up, the future of this England team looks very bright indeed.

Lydia Thompson

Every top international team has a top-class winger and England are fortunate to have a one in Lydia Thompson. The stats from the tournament say it all. In addition to her five tries there were fifteen carries over the gain line, ten clean breaks and a 75% tackle rate. She proved herself as both a try-scoring machine and a reliable defender, capable of breaking through the smallest of gaps and finishing clinically. After touching down three times on her international debut 5 years ago Thompson hasn’t looked back and has now played her way into being one of the first names on the team sheet. It is important that a team’s brightest attacking sparks can stay composed and deliver on the biggest occasions – Thompson’s two well-taken tries in the final, whilst ultimately in vain, proved that she certainly can. 

Sarah Bern

The player of the match in the semi-final victory over France, this was the tournament in which Sarah Bern cemented herself as one of the most exciting stars in the women’s game. She was England’s youngest player at the tournament but you wouldn’t have known it. The tighthead prop went from strength to strength, with an ability to thrive and cause havoc in the loose and burst through opposition defences certainly helped by her past experiences playing in both the back row and centre. She made twenty-five gain line carries during her four matches, eating up nearly 150 metres. As well as being solid in the scrum and effective in rucks, her 94% tackle rate indicates that she is also an integral part of England’s defensive arsenal. Along with Cokayne, England have the makings of a world-beating front-row. 

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