To call the conditions during England Women’s last Six Nations game challenging, would be putting it mildly. In reality, the weather at Murrayfield that day were far from mild. A game rearranged due to the onset of Storm Ciara, England managed to beat Scotland 53-0 in Edinburgh, despite heavy snowfall and low temperatures.
Two weekends on, England’s Women will be playing the Irish at a sold-out Castle Park in Doncaster. Having beaten both France and Scotland on the road, England have prepared for their encounter against the Irish with a midweek training session at Loughborough University, before heading up the road to Yorkshire for the third-round fixture.
After the extremely challenging conditions in Edinburgh, England head coach, Simon Middleton, was extremely happy with how his side has fared over the opening two games.
“In such tough conditions, I thought that some of the skills that we showed, the way we managed the game, our kicking game, our running game, the balance we had, it was outstanding,” Middleton said, “It was a really good performance given everything and all the disruption that went with it. I thought the girls went fantastically well, really maturely, professionally and that is what we are striving for.
“France was totally different, 26 degrees heat, 14 thousand fans, as opposed to an empty stadium. It was a tough game against the French, so we are thrilled. Two tough away games to start the tournament. So, I am really pleased at the moment.”
Similar to England, Ireland come into this game having won their opening two fixtures in the Six Nations Championships. Beating both Scotland and Wales on home soil, England captain Sarah Hunter is anticipating a physical affair on Sunday.
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“They have obviously gone through a transition period post-World Cup in 2017, have some new faces in and they’re obviously starting to gel as a team,” Hunter said, “That Irish squad is coming together and we have seen that in the first two games with the way that they play.
“We’re by no means underestimating what they’ll bring to Doncaster on Sunday and we know that they pose serious threats. We are probably going to have to keep pushing on and working a bit harder, especially around the contact area. I think they have got the most turnovers in the Six Nations, so they are going to come and attack the ball.”
Middleton is not underestimating their opponent either. Admitting that his side is no doubt coming up against a very good opponent, he also says that the way in which his side prepares is by mainly looking at themselves and trying to outperform themselves game by game.
“What we did a while ago, probably in the Autumn Internationals, we set our stall out to be what we describe as a 75 to 25 side,” Middleton said, “Which means that 25% of the time we will have a look at the opposition, but 75% of the time we will concentrate on what we are going to do.
“Ireland present a lot of different challenges to some of the other teams that we have played so far. The key bit for us is to make sure that our house is in order and the stuff we want to do, we do as well as we can. We are as prepared, from our point of view, as we can be.”
Doncaster won’t only entertaining two of the best women’s sides in the northern hemisphere, but some of the best players that the women’s game has ever seen. Both Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt have been playing at the highest level for over ten years now, with Scarratt recently picking up the Rugby Union World Player of the Year (Womens) last November.Playing for Lichfield before a spell with England Sevens, Scarrett then moved back to the 15-a-side game to play for Loughborough Lightning and received a professional 15s contract from the RFU. Having played at the Olympics and in two World Cup Finals, Scarratt is looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd.
“It will be awesome,” Scarratt said, “It will be our first time at home this Championship. It is always amazing to play in front of our home crowd. The fact that it had sold out already, with a week to go is fantastic and just shows the demand for our game, which is awesome. It will be great to get up there and have people cheering us for a change.”
It is also a big home game for Head Coach, Simon Middleton. Playing over 150 times for the Castleford Tigers in rugby league, Middleton is a Yorkshireman through and through. Having fond memories of the Red Roses’ previous two games in his home county, the 54-year-old is very much looking forward to another home crowd at Castle Park.
“When we played at Doncaster last year, I remember when we came out against France, the noise was unbelievable and it really resonated around the ground,” Middleton said, “It will be a great atmosphere again, it’s the biggest crowd we’ve had there in the three times we’ve played there, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“Personally, it is great for me to be back in Yorkshire and I am really proud to be brining the Red Roses to Yorkshire. It means a lot to me to be able to get a game here and I think we are in a really good position and regardless of what the conditions will be, we have got a pretty good game that we can get on the park and that is what we aim to do.”