- Gary Street “relishing” series against the Black Ferns
- “Three wins is defintely our target” – Sophie Hemming
England Women have set their stall out to mark a first tour of New Zealand since 2005 with a 3-0 whitewash, emulating what they achieved against the same opponents on home soil last December.
Gary Street’s charges arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud at the start of this week – with seven players from the Rugby World Cup Sevens squad that lost in the plate final last month re-integrated into the travelling party.
They now face the Black Ferns in the series-opener on Saturday at Eden Park in Auckland before moving on to Waikato and Pukekohe for the second and third Tests on July 16 and July 20 respectively.
With the 2014 World Cup in France looming, it promises to be a tough gauge of England’s potential in the territory of the top-ranked side on the planet.
“We want to see where we are really,” said Street. “We will be 12 months out from the World Cup after [the tour] and obviously it’s a huge challenge going down to New Zealand and playing them there.
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“It’s going to be huge. The first game is at Eden Park in Auckland before the Blues-Chiefs game and it’s live on Sky. That’s massive for us and it’s going to be very different for most of our players – only two of them have ever been to New Zealand before.
“It’s something we’re relishing because any international player or coach wants to play. These are exciting times.
“We’d love to win the series 3-0 or 2-1 but whichever way it goes we have 12 months afterwards to come back, look at the tapes and see what went well and what didn’t go well. We’ll have some hard work to do either way.”
Having blooded some younger names during this year's Six Nations in the absence of his sevens stars, Street went on to suggest that the less experienced players will have learnt a lot from losses to France and Ireland.
However, he also insisted that the return of the likes of Emily Scarratt and Michaela Staniford would provide a significant boost.
“It’s a bit of a cliché that you learn lessons from defeat, but we’ve had a massive programme since the Six Nations, sitting down and thinking about what we did.
“Most of that Six Nations squad are either coming to New Zealand or going [with the Under 20s] to the Nations Cup. We’ve now got some young players who have a Six Nations campaign under their belt and will be a bit more comfortable in the England shirt.
“We are the fittest, fastest set of backs I have ever had and it’s been great to have [the sevens players] back in training. Obviously, sevens is a different game to 15s, but all of those girls played against New Zealand in the autumn and were part of the 3-0 series win then.
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“They won’t have forgotten how to play, so with a bit of tweaking we’ll be back on the horse pretty quickly.
“New Zealand will have a point to prove and they’ll want to get a good footing before the World Cup as well. I’m sure they’ll throw the kitchen sink at us. We respect them hugely but we don’t fear anybody.”
Bristol’s Sophie Hemming is likely to be on the front-line of the three contests, and – with all but two of the England squad in New Zealand for the first time – the 57-cap prop earmarked the next fortnight as ideal preparation for next August across The Channel.
She added: “It’s a question of going out there and putting together three solid performances, aiming for three wins – that’s definitely our target.
“It’ll be a massive challenge – they’re ranked number one in the world and although we’ve had a winning record against them in recent years, travel is a big factor to take into account and they will have a big crowd supporting them.
“It is very important to get our strategies into place with regard to travelling, recovery and training in unfamiliar venues.
“That’s key for us and from the coaches’ point of view, they’ll be selecting a squad of around 26 for the World Cup. They will want to have as many players fighting for positions as possible to make us faster, fitter and stronger.”