Geoff Richards, the England women's rugby coach, has dismissed suggestions that the World Cup in Barcelona will be nothing more than a two-team race between his side and New Zealand.
England warmed up for the 16-team event with an historic first training run at Twickenham last Friday. They arrived in Spain confident and should easily beat Italy in their opening match this afternoon, while New Zealand, the champions, are expected to threaten the 100-point mark against unfancied Germany.
New Zealand are the top seeds and have long been the dominant force in the women's game but they suffered their first loss in a decade last year when they were beaten by England in Auckland. As a result, many expect New Zealand and England to dominate in the next two weeks and meet in the May 25 final at the Olympic Stadium.
Richards thinks the tournament is wide open, with Canada, Australia, France and Samoa, the World Cup newcomers, not to be discounted.
FIRST-ROUND DRAW: New Zealand v Germany; Australia v Wales; United States v Holland; France v Kazakhstan; England v Italy; Spain v Japan; Canada v Ireland; Scotland v Samoa.
The Times (London, England) (May 13, 2002): p29