ENGLAND'S crown will come under severe threat in Amsterdam this afternoon, when they meet New Zealand in a semi-final of the third women's World Cup tournament. However, they will be buoyed by the presence of Gill Burns, their captain, who has recovered from injury, and spurred on by their humiliation at the hands of the New Zealanders last August.
On that occasion they were beaten 67-0, having stepped from the flight taking them across the world only 24 hours earlier. "We got our backsides kicked," Carole Isherwood, the performance director for England, said. "We were naive, we made mistakes, we gave New Zealand a boost of confidence, but we are a much-changed team now."
They are also benefiting from nearly three weeks together, having spent a week at Lilleshall before travelling to Holland. Two comfortable pool matches, against Sweden and Canada, were followed by the demanding physical encounter with Australia on Saturday, which England won 30-13, scoring five tries, though both Burns and Helen Clayton sustained ankle injuries.
They have mended quickly, though, and both have been named in the starting XV today. The team will need to accept the early scoring opportunities that went begging against Australia, for the New Zealanders have yet to concede a try in three matches.
"All the talk is about the All Blacks, just as in 1994 it was about the US," Steve Peters, the England coach, said. "But we're world champions and intend to stay that way." If England are to reach a third successive final (they lost to the United States in 1991 and beat them in 1994), much credit will go to the tactical direction given by Emma Mitchell, the Saracens scrum half. Mitchell will take over the captaincy if Burns has to leave the field.
The other semi-final is between the United States and Canada, renewing a rivalry that has been sustained in women's rugby since 1987.
Scotland, beaten 25-10 in the quarter-finals by the US, play France in the plate competition.
Copyright (C) The Times, 1998
Hands, David. "Burns fit to lead England; Women's World Cup." Times [London, England] 12 May 1998