Simon Middleton strikes gold as he tests England’s World Cup tactics | Women’s Six Nations Tournament

The Women’s Six Nations trophy is in England’s hands for the fourth consecutive year, but they will be looking to achieve something in the autumn they haven’t done since 2014: win the World Cup.

This tournament was considered a stepping stone to success on the world stage. Their head coach, Simon Middleton, had five games to play with selection and tactics to avoid the heartbreak they suffered in the 2017 World Cup final at the hands of New Zealand. In some ways, he struck gold. England had 21 try scorers who racked up 45 tries and scored 282 points.

Their strength in depth to bring in players who not only maintain team standards but score plenty of tries is a great asset for the World Cup. This goes as far as recruiting new talent. When Emma Sing won her first cap, she scored a try for England in the competition, a sign that training is on. Middleton knows he can trust any team he puts forward to pick up the win.

The team’s experimentation allowed Middleton to find his preferred starting XV. The team had a change from their game against Ireland for Saturday’s final against France, with Poppy Cleall starting at No.8 for injured captain Sarah Hunter. It’s the most consistent team game the Red Roses have had in at least a year. Finding their preferred line-up is essential for England’s World Cup campaign, the cohesion and consistency that can flow through the squad will be enhanced tenfold for them.

Resilience is another badge of honor the team has doubled down on. Their toughest test was always going to come against France and Les Bleues lived up to the hype. England fell behind for the first time in the competition, with France scoring the opening try.

The Red Roses also received their first yellow card of the tournament as Zoe Harrison deliberately kicked. But England won back-to-back penalties and conceded no points with a player down. It was exactly the pressure they needed to go up against the best and show they could weather the storms and win. The victory launched England on a streak of 23 consecutive victories, a record in international rugby.

England’s Sarah Bern scores a try against France. Photography: Nicolas Mollo/AP

But all has not been rosy for England and there are areas they need to work on. A glaring problem is their handling. When England were patient in their attack, they were almost guaranteed to score. Yet when they forced a quick play or tried to be flashy with a long pass, they either knocked out or had to deal with a bouncing ball.

The team made 80 handling errors in the tournament, most against Italy with 22. They were lucky on occasion that the opponents didn’t jump on an interception and at the World Cup, the Black Ferns and Australia will surely not be so forgiving. If they can eliminate sloppiness, the offense will have an extra string to their bow. Otherwise, it could be fatal.

The set pieces weren’t perfect either. Their line-ups against Wales were exploited and they quickly corrected their dominance in the scrum against Ireland.

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But their driving maul was the most successful of the tournament, bringing in 11 tries from a set piece. The attacking coach, Louis Deacon, has enough material to correct these errors or at least give more consistency to the free kick.

The Women’s Six Nations Tournament was an excellent springboard for England. They discovered their best team, had a series of perfect results and also identified weaknesses. These lessons, if learned, will benefit the team, which is in a privileged position to win the World Cup.

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