England revel in prime time slot with New Zealand

England coach Simon Middleton insists a prime-time TV slot will not ramp up the pressure on his players as they face off against New Zealand in the World Cup final today.

England revel in prime time slot with New Zealand

Predicting a physical battle in Belfast, Middleton believes the Black Ferns are much improved on the side England defeated down under earlier in the summer.

But he warned that the Red Rose had also made strides forward since that famous 29-21 win in Rotorua in June.

The much-anticipated game at the Kingspan Stadium will be broadcast on eirSport and on ITV tonight, exposing the sport to a huge audience.

“It doesn’t add pressure at all, but it’s absolutely fantastic,” said Middleton.

“We’ve just got to make sure we put a show on now and do the game proud and I think all the teams have done that through this tournament.

“If we could finish the tournament in style, both us and New Zealand, with a great final, everybody is going to be a winner, in one respect, for sure.”

The clash pits the best two women’s teams in the world against each other. England are going for back-to-back titles after their triumph in 2014 while New Zealand are aiming for a fifth crown.

Middleton acknowledged that England face a huge challenge.

“They are a physical side, they have got some great talent, and they like to get on the front foot — that is when they are on their very best, so it’s going to be a really tough game and we’re just looking forward to it,” he said.

Asked if he believed the Kiwis had improved following June’s defeat, he said: “Like every side they have developed as they have gone through the tournament and they have been outstanding as an attacking and a defensive force.

“They have been incredible, scored some great tries, they have obviously moved the game on from where we played, but I would like to think we have as well — so it’s pretty evenly matched.”

Middleton also explained his thinking in shifting outside centre Emily Scarratt to full back to replace the concussed Danielle Waterman.

Bristol back Megan Jones comes into the midfield alongside Rachel Burford. The starting XV is otherwise unchanged from the side that beat France in Tuesday’s pulsating semi-final, with Amy Wilson Hardy moving on to the replacements’ bench instead of Jones.

Middleton said: “Emily is quite an accomplished full-back, she has played there a lot. What Jonesy’s done when she has come in, she has played really, really well at 13 and gives us a really good balance to the side.

“She is quite an aggressive defender is Jonesy, so she will get us on the front foot which is what we want to be and with Emily at full-back it just gives that little bit more of a kicking game from there. So it was a pretty easy decision to make, really.”

Captain Sarah Hunter predicted England’s best performance would come in the final. She said form, rankings, and past results would not count when the teams cross the whitewash today.

“I think getting into the World Cup final for any squad is the ultimate test,” she said.

“Past form really goes out the window, we are not thinking about what games we have won recently or what games we have fallen short in or what has gone in World Cups beforehand.”

Hunter said the mood in the camp was similar to that prior to the 2014 final — relaxed and confident.

“We have the confidence in ourselves and the ability of what this squad really can do,” she said.

“Every time we have taken to the field we have got better and we have got stronger and there is a feeling that we still have our best game to come tomorrow, which is what you want in a World Cup, you want to be peaking in a World Cup final and not before.”

Glenn Moore’s Black Ferns are within reach of their fifth World Cup crown while Black Ferns skipper Fiao’o Fa’amausili will make her last international appearance in the World Cup final.

“It’s something that we’ve wanted to do since not making it in 2014,” said Fa’amausili. “Bringing that cup home will mean everything, all the hard work, the early morning trainings, the sacrifices we do after work, it means everything.”

ENGLAND:

E Scarratt (Lichfield); L Thompson (Worcester), M Jones (Bristol), R Burford (Harlequins), K Wilson (Richmond); K Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park), N Hunt (Lichfield); V Cornborough (Harlequins), A Cokayne (Lichfield), S Bern (Bristol), A Scott (Darlington Mowden Park), T Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park), A Matthews (Richmond), M Packer (Bristol), S Hunter (Bristol, capt).

NEW ZEALAND:

TBC

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