Women's Rugby World Cup 2010
Spencer excited by World Cup challenge
August 17, 2010
The captains pose with the Women's Rugby World Cup in the shadow of Tower Bridge © Getty Images
As throwbacks to the old days go, you'll struggle to find a better one. The sixth Women's Rugby World Cup gets underway in Surrey on Friday, bringing the finest the game has to offer together for a short, sharp burst of action.
For the players, jobs have been placed on hold and loved ones have been farewelled as the 12 teams compete for the top prize in the women's game, which has been dominated in recent years by New Zealand's Black Ferns.
In contrast to their World Cup-phobic counterparts, the All Blacks, the Ferns have seen off all challengers to win the last three tournaments, beating England in a thrilling final in Canada four years ago, and despite a difficult path to this year's tournament they are again among the favourites.
The Black Ferns have a fiendishly difficult group, where they take on reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champions Australia, South Africa and Wales. The three Pool winners and best runner-up are set to contest the semi-finals.
Catherine Spencer's England are on home soil and after defeating the Black Ferns to halve a series last November, they are not only odds on to top their Pool, which includes Ireland, Kazakhstan and 1991 champions the USA, but also among the main contenders for the title, which will be decided at Harlequins' Twickenham Stoop on September 5.
First up for England, who have won four Six Nations Grand Slams in the last five seasons, are Ireland on Friday at the newly-minted Surrey Sports Complex, a state of the art facility providing pitches as well as an Olympic-style village to house the teams.
The 2010 edition of the tournament was also the first to feature a full programme of qualifying, with Sweden upsetting both Italy and Spain to book their place in Pool C along with France, Scotland and Canada.
England captain Spencer said, "It's really exciting that we are now just days away from the games getting underway. We have been training really hard for this moment and know that we are ready for this. We are chomping at the bit for our first game against Ireland on Friday. To play in a world cup is a massive honour. To play in a world cup on home soil and lead your country is extra special and I just can't wait."
Wallaroos skipper Cheryl Soon, who led the side to Sevens glory in Dubai last year, is now fully focused on the task at hand, having played a public role in helping Sevens become an Olympic sport in 2016.
"There's no pressure on us," she said. "If we focus on execution in all areas, our unified trust, belief and persistence, and focus on the process, the outcome will come. Winning the Sevens World Cup was a confidence boost for us, but that was Sevens and this is fifteens, that's our focus.
"It's a step forward for us and any exposure for women's rugby helps lift the profile. I truly believe that this tournament will be one of the best World Cups to date. Every country has proven that the skill level and standard has improved immensely."
Soon admitted that the road to the tournament was not smooth for all of the players, with the amount of commitment required as an amateur player casting the current high-profile men's game into stark relief.
"We've made a lot of sacrifices," she said. "We're still amateurs and hold down a full-time job. Six days a week we train, the workload is hectic. We make huge sacrifices, not only us but also our loved ones - but it's worth it in the end. We do it because we love it."
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.