Pool C of the Women’s Rugby World Cup is made up of favourites England and highly-fancied France, as well as unknown quantities in South Africa and Fiji.
All will hope to gain automatic qualification in the top two spots and the strength of the pool suggests third place in Pool C could be one of the two that go through to the latter stages.
England head into the tournament as heavy favourites, seeking to avenge their 2017 final defeat to New Zealand.
In 2019, they became the first women’s team to professionalise, and the Red Roses have dominated since.
They are unbeaten for a record 25 games, which includes three successive Six Nations triumphs and resounding victories against the Black Ferns.
Captain Sarah Hunter – one of six remaining from their 2014 World Cup triumph – will provide experience in a pack that also benefits from the power of Marlie Packer and the try-scoring prowess of prop, Sarah Bern.
Emily Scarratt and Jess Breach are just two stars littered amongst a blistering set of backs which is also boosted by the returning Abby Dow who broke her leg in April.
Many think Simon Middleton’s side has it all with a mix of experience and youth, brain and brawn, instinct and intelligence – yet they seem unfazed by the expectation placed upon their shoulders.
If they play to their best, it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping them.
France have built on their third-place finish in 2017 to cement themselves as one of the teams best placed to shock favourites England and New Zealand.
Thomas Darracq’s team, now largely professional and centrally contracted, boasts an exciting blend of power and creativity.
Captain Gaelle Hermet and the powerful Romane Menager feature in the back row whilst locks Safi N’Diaye and Madoussou Fall offer brutish-ball-carrying excellence.
Scrum-half Laure Sansus, player of the championship as France finished second in this year’s Six Nations, will be crucial to their attacking game alongside the clinical finishing of Emilie Boulard and the experience and kicking ability of Jessy Tremouliere.
A pool stage draw with England and a recent loss to Italy may have dampened expectations but, if France can produce their best, they could pull off an almighty upset.
South Africa are a team on the up in the women’s game.
They chose not to compete in the 2017 world cup and it fell in a four-year period in which the team played no competitive games.
This year, they will challenge two potential title contenders, England and France, in Pool C.
Twenty players receive a salary and support from the First National Bank which has progressed the team towards full professionalism.
However, only four of the squad have previous World Cup appearances.
The nation’s rugby obsession makes this tournament an opportunity to grow their profile on a global stage.
Fullback Nadine Roos says the power-packed Springboks are ‘ready to make a statement’.
The Fijians are the tournament’s unknowns and in that they pose a threat.
When Fiji face England, it will not only be their first World Cup appearance but the first time they have played any of their Pool C opponents.
They beat Papau New Guinea 152-0 in the Oceania Championship and their qualification was officially confirmed with victory against Samoa 41-13 at 2019 tournament.
The coaching staff consists of five former men’s Fijian internationals.
The team will hope to cause a few shocks as their surprise factor might be an advantage against more established teams.
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