Emily Scarratt insisted she’s firmly focused on clinching a third straight Women's Six Nations title for England on Saturday - but that hasn’t stopped her from thinking about the World Cup, writes Rachel Steinberg.
The centre will wear the captain’s armband in her 95th appearance for England, replacing regular captain Sarah Hunter, who is still returning to top form after sitting out 13 months with an injury.
Scarratt is looking forward to playing France in the all-or-nothing Finals Day, one of the unique features of this year’s Covid-19-influenced tournament restructuring. Both she and Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton see it as a rare dress rehearsal for the squad before they take to the world stage in New Zealand next year for the postponed World Cup.
She said: “I don’t think it’s changed anything mentally, because we always know how big a task it is, I think it’s really nice that it is a final.
“You don’t get many opportunities to be in finals, and to practice that kind of week and the differences that it [has].
“And certainly when we’re out there on the pitch, there’s no second chances in a final, it’s knockout rugby, so there’s a championship on the line. I don’t necessarily think it changes the mindset, but it’s really good practice.
“Sometimes you end up in a World Cup final and you’ve perhaps not been in one for four years, so actually now to have that opportunity, in this case against one of the very top teams in the world, is going to be really good for us.”
Her head coach agreed, adding the chance to play back-to-back games against the highly talented French squad, who England will also face in a friendly next weekend, is just what his side needs to maximise their potential next year.
Middleton said: “We won’t be looking at wholesale squad rotation for the next week, we’ll react to how people play and how the side play.
“We’ll go into some competitions where we want to give people opportunity, so the first two games in this.
“Because of the quality and the depth we’ve got in the squad we knew we could rotate, but these next two games are about winning.
“This is always going to be sort of a World Cup rehearsal in terms of can you back two really good performances up? And that’s our objective.
“First and foremost we want to be 100 per cent focused on this week, and we’ll deal with what comes off the back of that, but if we go really well, you can expect to see minimal changes, and that’s been our strategy from word go with this competition.
He added: “As Emily said, you get so few chances to actually play in a final. This is a great opportunity for us to develop that side of our approach.
“It’s exciting, it’s really exciting. It definitely feels a little bit different.”
Middleton “expects a few fireworks” in the first five minutes of the weekend clash, and knows the Red Roses will once again face a huge challenge from France’s talented back three of Caroline Boujard, Cyrielle Banet and Emilie Boulard.
He said: “They’re so aggressive in their contact, their line speed, and so dangerous. And their back three, the three Bs in the back three, are, without putting a pun on it, definitely buzzing.
“It’s going to be such a good game. Nerve-wracking.”
His captain, who hasn’t yet written her pep talk, felt the same.
Scarratt said: “If I’m honest, I don’t think many people will need riling up for this one. I think everybody will be up there themselves.”