Louis Deacon Interview: "I have been there as a player...you genuinely believe you should be going"

Louis Deacon has been part of England's coaching staff for just over a year
©RFU Collection via Getty Images

Louis Deacon was speaking as a coach on Tuesday afternoon, but he knows just how it feels to be a player when World Cup squad selection is the only thing running through your mind.

The former Leicester Tiger was on the cusp of being named in Brian Ashton's plans for the 2007 World Cup, but he narrowly missed the cut to go to France.

Fast-forward 15 years and in a way, the shoe is now on the other foot for Deacon. Having joined the England Women's coaching group in August 2021, he - along with head coach Simon Middleton and the rest of the Red Roses' brains trust - announced their 32-strong squad this week ahead of next month's World Cup in New Zealand.

"I have been there to be fair," Deacon tells TRU. "Back when I was playing, I missed out on a World Cup and I was down to the last three that didn't make it to France. It is tough. You genuinely believe you should be going and that is the hard bit about all of this.

"To be honest, we have been having weekly catch-ups on the Red Roses squad since we came together in July. It just got harder and harder towards the end because of the quality of players that eventually missed out. They would probably get into most other squads. They have been with us all the way through so it has had quite a big effect on everyone having to make those big calls. It isn't easy because they have given it their all."

When listening to Deacon, you really begin to understand how difficult it was for the Red Roses coaches to piece together a squad with the sole aim of becoming world champions. The tone in his voice is one of sympathy for those established internationals who received the news that they wouldn't be flying out to Auckland on Friday.

The likes of Natasha 'Mo' Hunt, Amber Reed and Vicky Fleetwood have all been omitted. The decision to leave the trio behind might puzzle many considering they won the biggest prize in the sport back in 2014, but Deacon stressed players of this calibre may still yet have a crucial role to play for the No.1 ranked side in the world.

"I found getting back into rugby as quick as possible made it [the hurt of missing out on a World Cup] a bit better," Deacon adds. "I went back to training with Leicester and got fully focused on a club season so I would just encourage them to make sure they are getting back involved with their club as quickly as possible.

"To be fair to the girls, with the conversations we have had, they have all argued their case really well but at the end of the day, we have to go with what we think is right for the group. The door is not closed because you just never know. If the opportunity comes around where you are going to get called up because someone unfortunately gets injured, then the girls still need to be ready."

Whilst a combined total of 204 caps (between Hunt, Reed and Fleetwood) are staying at home for now, players such as Sarah Hunter, Emily Scarratt and Marlie Packer know what it takes to win a World Cup and Middleton, Deacon and co. have opted to blend that experience with some youthful exuberance. 

Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury) and Lucy Packer (Harlequins) are just a few of the names who have made every second count during their time with the Red Roses.

Yes, it might be a surprise that England can leave out Hunt, Reed, Fleetwood et al, but it also highlights the sheer depth Middleton has at his disposal.

"These young players have been outstanding and they are now pushing the more experienced players," says Deacon. "I have only been involved in the last year but the standard and growth over the last year or so has been phenomenal. That is by blooding these young players. That is just driving their level even higher.

"It is like Sadia. In the warm-up game against the USA, she made 32 tackles. That is incredible! She made like 26 individual tackles and the rest were like a double where she was assisting a tackler. That is incredible numbers. She has got a real bright future and she is just one of them."

But what is interesting about the younger contingent who are travelling to New Zealand is they are not wildcards. They are not shock inclusions or left-field calls by Middleton. He has subtly embedded some of England's most exciting talents into his plans and handed them opportunities along the way.

You also don't envy the headaches and the constant deliberating that Middleton has undoubtedly had to endure on his way to locking in his 32. The Red Roses squad is arguably the toughest team in sport to select at the moment, given they head to New Zealand on the back of a record-breaking 25th successive Test victory and sit at the top of the world rankings.

But this is the moment the RFU and England have been waiting for. The pain of 2017 when the Black Ferns dethroned Middleton's side as world champions was the starting point and since then, the Red Roses have turned professional and smashed milestone after milestone. The spotlight, and expectation, has only gathered pace over the last five years.

Their hard work has not gone unnoticed and it has reaped its rewards in the form of Six Nations Grand Slams, but it is now time for England to deliver on the world stage.

"The biggest thing which really stands out for me is how much the girls want to keep getting better," says Deacon. "Where we currently sit in the world and where we are currently in terms of performance, it will be a massive disappointment if we didn't go there [to New Zealand] and perform.

"Obviously, the coaches who were in in 2017 who unfortunately didn't quite get over the line will want to prove a point and I want to help them do that. There are a lot of players also who are obviously still here who have got some memories of how it went last time so they will want to put that right. It is a massive incentive for a lot of people to get over that line.

"It is going to take everything. It is going to be tough in New Zealand, one of the hardest places to go and perform but if anyone can do it, the girls can."