18 Days Remaining

Friday 17th
posted by Morning Star in Sport

Middleton feels England are a better team thanks to final loss

ENGLAND coach Simon Middleton is hoping his squad can learn from their “darkest moments” and look towards a positive future as they prepare to open a three-Test series against Canada at Barnet Copthall tonight.

The Red Rose saw their hopes of another World Cup success ended by defeat to New Zealand in the final in Belfast earlier this year.

Despite the disappointment of losing their title against the Black Ferns, Middleton is confident his latest group, which will include seven uncapped players in the match-day squad for tonight’s opener, can rise to the challenges ahead.

“One of the things we picked up from the World Cup is we’re an extremely good team, we have got lots of structure and lots of processes, we’re very good at executing them and following a plan, and that has been instrumental in our development and our success last year,” said Middleton.

“But you always find out in your darkest moments and your biggest losses where those bits are that you haven’t got, and New Zealand beat us pretty comprehensively in that second half when it came to roll your sleeves up and being able to be ultra-competitive and combative in the confrontational stakes.

“That’s where we’ve gone and there are one or two things

that we’re doing to help to bring that to the side and it’s also become a little bit of our selection criteria when we pick players.”

Middleton has decided to give first England caps to the likes of Wasps winger Abigail Dow and Harlequins’ Jessica Breach as well as Caity Mattinson, Zoe Harrison and Ellie Kildunne in the backs.

Sarah Hunter, meanwhile, retains the captaincy, but switches from No 8 to blindside flanker for what will be her 98th England appearance.

Middleton has full confidence his players can make the step up having impressed in the new Premier 15s competition.

“They have got great skillsets, they’re really accomplished players,” Middleton said.

“If you look across them they can all catch, pass, understand good running lines, they can kick the ball really well and that is unbelievably rare for a group of young players coming into a set-up at this stage in their career, it gives them a great platform.

“They’ve also got pace, blistering pace, and we’ll want to get them on the ball and let them demonstrate that as that is one of those things you can’t coach.

“Our priority is to win the series and keep our winning momentum going from last season.”

The RFU confirmed earlier this week England’s women are to be paid squad and match fees for the first time — understood to be worth a total in the region of £5,000 for a player who features in every game this month.