Women's World Cup: England coach Simon Middleton predicts tough test against rivals France

ENGLAND coach Simon Middleton is expecting a “close contest” when his side take on France in their second match of the World Cup on Saturday.

The Red Roses started their campaign with an 84-19 rout of tournament debutants Fiji, scoring 10 tries in the second half.

Marlie Packer will return against France at openside flanker – the only change made to Middleton’s matchday squad from the opener at Eden Park.

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Lark Davies remains unavailable, with Middleton saying she will be fit for the final group game against South Africa on October 23.

TOUGH TEST: England Women head coach, Simon Middleton Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty ImagesTOUGH TEST: England Women head coach, Simon Middleton Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
TOUGH TEST: England Women head coach, Simon Middleton Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

France have a new coaching set-up since they were beaten 36-10 by England in June, and Middleton said of the game: “France always present a huge challenge and this time it will be no different. We look forward to another big test and what I expect to be a close contest.

“They’re starting from scratch because they’ve got a new coaching team in there. We haven’t beaten that coaching team as such, so it’s a new set for them but they’ve certainly got a few differences to their game that we’ve got to be aware of.

“There are things we think we can get, but things that we’ve got to be really conscious of in terms of how we go about playing.

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“But to be honest, one win or 10 wins – or 10 losses – it doesn’t make any difference, this is a huge game, so our focus has been just on being the best version of us and getting our game on the field.

“We know against France it will bring up different challenges to playing other sides, but that’s what we’re setting out to do.”

Captain Sarah Hunter will become the joint most-capped England international during Saturday’s World Cup clash with France in Whangarei.

The 37-year-old is poised to make her 137th appearance for her country in the Pool C encounter, drawing level with prop Rocky Clark, after retaining her place at number eight.

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She will be joined in the back row by Saracens’ Marlie Packer, who replaces Sadia Kabeya at openside flanker in the only change to Simon Middleton’s matchday squad from last weekend’s 84-19 bonus-point win over Fiji in Auckland.

Rugby union’s reluctance to address football’s commercial dominance has contributed to the crises which have engulfed Premiership clubs Wasps and Worcester, according to a sports finance expert.

Both teams have been suspended from the Gallagher Premiership, with Wasps having earlier withdrawn from this weekend’s match against Exeter and announcing it was “likely” they would enter administration.

Kieran Maguire, a lecturer from the University of Liverpool Management School, believes the sport has been slow to act to address the issues it faces.

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“Rugby is still a relatively new professional sport and in many aspects it’s being run in an amateur way in terms of cash flow and cost control and governance, all the dull words that get accountants excited,” he told the PA news agency.

“I know rugby fans would be upset about rugby being called a minority sport, but football is too successful. It takes too many of the column inches and too much of the broadcasters’ focus, because it delivers in terms of eyeballs.

“That’s a challenge – how does rugby increase its income streams and control costs? I think there’s a reluctance to address that.

“So trying to find a solution is genuinely challenging. I think there will always be a rugby, but in terms of the level of expenditure I’m not convinced that it can go on as it has done historically.”