Simon Middleton is expecting a “close contest” when his England side take on France in their second match of the Women’s Rugby World Cup on Saturday.
The Red Roses started their campaign with an 84-19 rout of tournament debutants Fiji, scoring 10 tries in the second half. Middleton predicts a tougher test against their Six Nations rivals, who have brought in a new coaching setup since losing 36-10 to England in June.
“France always present a huge challenge and this time it will be no different,” Middleton said. “We look forward to another big test and what I expect to be a close contest. They’re starting from scratch because they’ve got a new coaching team in there.
“We haven’t beaten that coaching team as such, so it’s a new set for them but they’ve certainly got a few differences to their game that we’ve got to be aware of,” he added. “We know against France, it will bring up different challenges to playing other sides.”
Marlie Packer will return at openside flanker for the game in Whangarei – the only change made to the match-day squad from the opener at Eden Park. The hooker Lark Davies remains unavailable, with Middleton saying she will be fit for the final pool match against South Africa on 23 October.
Packer has recovered from a foot injury and will replace the 20-year-old Sabia Kabeya, who drops out of the squad after “tweaking her knee” against Fiji, according to Middleton. Abby Dow is named on the bench again, while there is still no place in the 23 for the winger Jess Breach.
England go into the game on a 26-game winning streak, and have beaten France in their last 10 meetings. “One win or 10 wins – or 10 losses – it doesn’t make any difference,” Middleton insisted. “This is a huge game, so our focus has been just on being the best version of us and getting our game on the field.”
Sarah Hunter will captain the side to earn her 137th cap and become the joint-highest appearance-maker for England, drawing level with Rocky Clark. “It’s something that as a player you can’t control, and for me my goal is always just to be the best version that I can be, to play for the team and get selected,” Hunter said.
“I wanted to be put in that category with someone like Clark who has just been an absolute legend for the game. To be alongside her now as the most-capped player is really special and it will be a really proud moment for me.”