England head coach Simon Middleton has admitted “we have to win” after announcing what he considers the best-prepared World Cup squad in the country’s history.
Veteran scrum-half Mo Hunt is the biggest name omitted from the group of 32 who leave for New Zealand on Friday, but winger Abby Dow is included despite being sidelined since breaking a leg in April.
Sarah Hunter is England captain for a third consecutive World Cup and will be playing in the tournament for the fourth time, a feat shared by center Emily Scarratt.
A record 25 Test winning run which includes a Grand Slam clinching in April means the Red Roses are strong favorites to win a third world crown and Middleton accepts they have to deliver.
When asked if anything other than a World Cup win would be considered a failure, Middleton replied: “Yeah. We have to win it.
“We have the best strength in depth that we have ever had. We have everything at our disposal that we could wish for.
“They’re the best-prepared team and the best depth force we’ve ever had. We’re as ready to go as we can get.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to win. The only thing is you can’t guarantee you’ll win it because it doesn’t work that way.
“You watch Argentina beating New Zealand in New Zealand for the first time recently or Andy Ruiz knocking out Anthony Joshua when he has no chance.
“Going back to when I was playing, Wimbledon was beating Liverpool in football. Everyone has a chance in sport, that’s the beauty of it.
“You’ll never get 100 per cent performance, but if we can get that many people to play that close to their best when it counts, we’ll be in a good position.”
Hunt has starts in the last two World Cup finals among her 60 caps, but she lost to favorite scrum-halves Leanne Infante, Lucy Packer and Claudia MacDonald.
MacDonald slips through thanks to his ability to cover on the wing with Hunt, 33, underdog due to a style of play that is at odds with what England expect from the position.
“We feel desperate for the players who missed out. We’re really confident we’ve got the right team,” Middleton said.
“The decision came about because we have a very specific way of playing in that we build our game around our 10 and our 12. We don’t build our game around our nine, unlike New Zealand. or to France.
“The role of our nine is very simple – get to the breakdown, get the ball into the hands of the 10 quickly, move on to the next one, start over and repeat over and over.
“Within this framework, there is room to express oneself, but the basis of this work is very simple.
“Mo is a very instinctive player – she wants to run, kick and pass. She wants to be central to the game plan and really influential inside.
MacDonald’s presence provides additional cover for Dow, who it is hoped will be ready for the opener against Fiji in Auckland on October 8 after breaking a leg against Wales in April.
“If we can get her out of the park and something near her best form, we know we’ll have a peak, but we won’t take any chances with her,” Middleton said.