The time is now for England. The World Cup is what they have been waiting for

Captain Sarah Hunter has experienced the highs and lows with England at a World Cup
©World Rugby

After an extra year of planning and added preparations, the Women's World Cup finally gets underway on Saturday in New Zealand.

The tournament was supposed to take place in 2021 but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was rescheduled. However fast forward 12 months and we are almost ready to go.

Since losing to the Black Ferns in the 2017 final, following the progress of England on Talking Rugby Union - alongside colleagues Joe Harvey and Elizabeth Cartwright -  has, quite frankly, been astonishing.

The introduction of professional contracts by the Rugby Football Union three years ago was the spark that lit the fuse on the phenomenal rise of the Red Roses and now Simon Middleton is tasked with masterminding World Cup glory.

England are the No.1 ranked side in the world and even back in 2019 when TRU chatted to Poppy Leitch and Sarah Beckett, you started to get the sense they were beginning to build something special.

They now head to New Zealand as the favourites having stitched together a record-breaking run of 25 successive Test match wins. The high standards they continue to set have never dipped, they rarely have an 'off day', but this is now the moment Middleton, his group of staff and players and the RFU have been working towards.

Four consecutive Six Nations titles shows how dominant England have been during this World Cup cycle and perhaps each year we have become accustomed to the Red Roses turning up and blowing everyone out of the water.

We don't expect there to be a slump in this form at the World Cup when they enter Pool C alongside France, South Africa and Fiji. England open their tournament by facing the latter on Saturday, but eyes might be fixed on their matchup with Les Bleues in Whangarei on October 15th.

They are, of course, familiar opposition to the Red Roses and England have had the upper-hand over their rivals having won their last 10 matches against them. However, Middleton and his charges won't be taking France lightly as they - along with New Zealand - have the capability to dash their World Cup dream.

The host nation were beaten by England and France last year but on home turf and defending their title, the Black Ferns will be highly motivated to set the record straight. The iconic figure of Wayne Smith has been overseeing the side since April 2022 and his experiences will only add another layer of quality to New Zealand.

Australia join the Black Ferns in Pool A alongside both Scotland and Wales. TRU's Gary Heatly has provided unrivalled coverage of Scotland's development and back in May, he described how Bryan Easson's side booked their place at the World Cup for the first time in over a decade.

Scottish Rugby’s Head of Women and Girls’ Strategy Gemma Fay said people are "enthused by a new era" for women and girl's rugby north of the border. The squad were given funding for full-time training before this tournament and a minimum of 30 female players will be handed professional contracts following the World Cup.

Their squad is littered with stars from the Allianz Premier 15s as well as those who have risen through the ranks at the excellent Edinburgh University.

Wales also boast many names who ply their trade in England, but you get the feeling that their pool opener against the Scots on Sunday will not only provide an opportunity to potentially claim a third-place qualifying spot for the quarter-finals, but it will also highlight where both teams are on their respective journeys. 

Wales introduced their own set of professional contracts earlier this year and finished third in the Six Nations behind England and France. Their 24-19 win over Scotland was played out in front of a record crowd of 4,875 at Cardiff Arms Park, and those sorts of attendances share similarities with the beginning of the 'pro era' which the Red Roses experienced in 2019.

All roads now lead to Eden Park on November 12th. Scotland and Wales will most definitely be hoping to put their best foot forward over in New Zealand while the expectation for England to be in Auckland in five weeks time is growing. 

The success of the Lionesses this summer and the feel-good factor around some of England's female athletes who medalled at the Commonwealth Games shone a deserved light on women's sport and now it is the Red Roses' turn to conclude the year with a bang.

Alarms will be set for 4:45am on Saturday when Middleton's side begin their quest to conquer the world. Abbie Ward told us back in August "we haven't seen the Red Roses in full flow yet" but when you consider what England have achieved since the last World Cup in terms of the records they have smashed, then that is a frightening thought. 

That isn't arrogance or overconfidence from Ward. It is part of the culture which England have shaped since the heartache of Belfast in 2017, determined not to settle for second best again. It has been fantastic following the journey of the Red Roses through the eyes of TRU. They have dazzled and they have inspired. Now it is their time to deliver over in New Zealand.