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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
England set sights on world crown
By Bryn Palmer

England centre Sue Day in action against France in this year's Women's Six Nations
Sue Day is confident England can emulate the men's 2003 triumph
Amid the negative vibes that accompany English rugby these days, it is easy to forget the national team are still world champions, at least for one more year.

But even if Andy Robinson's men relinquish the crown in France next October, England may still have a team able to call themselves the best.

Where "Johnno" and Jonny blazed the trail to glory in Sydney in 2003, England's women's team hope to tread a similar path in Edmonton, Canada, over the next few weeks.

Ranked second in the world and Six Nations champions, their World Cup record also suggests the optimism of those flying out to Canada on Wednesday is not misplaced.

Winners in 1994, twice beaten finalists and third in 1998, they lost out last time to New Zealand, having become the first country in 10 years to beat the "Black Ferns" in 2001.

1991: USA bt England 19-6
1994: England bt USA 38-23
1998: NZ bt USA 44-12
2002: NZ bt England 19-9
Women's rugby in England has come a long way in the last 15 years, but its participants remain amateur, even if their ethos is distinctly professional.

Most of England's squad of 26 have taken time off from their jobs to prepare fully for the competition starting next Thursday, 31 August.

Sue Day is a prime example. The 32-year-old centre is a chartered accountant who works three days a week for multi-national firm KPMG in the City of London.

"I have worked for them ever since I have been part of the international set-up, two or three days a week, and they are just brilliantly supportive," Day told BBC Sport.

"They give me the days off and the leave I need to go to tournaments, and I have been very lucky. It means I can earn enough money to live on but still follow my dream.

"I have had the last few weeks off for our training camps and am off the next five. But I have to impress on people at work that when I come back I will be a bit more tired than the average person coming back off holiday!"

Sue Day takes on the death slide at England's training camp in Devon
Day tries out the commando slide
England's preparations bear more than a passing ressemblance to Sir Clive Woodward's military-style campaign in 2003.

The squad recently spent four days at the Royal Marines' Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, tackling a variety of team-building exercises designed to test their "mental fitness under extreme pressure".

Those included an assault course featuring a commando slide, a river crossing, a "confidence jump" and abseiling down the side of a cliff.

"They pretty much went through the whole book as far as everyone's fears went," Day recalls.

"I am not a fan of heights so going down the commando slide and the ropes course, which was rather far off the ground, was pretty challenging.

"Some of the younger girls had no fear whatsoever, but it was great fun and great for team spirit."

Day is the Josh Lewsey of the women's squad, having won her 42 caps at centre, wing and full-back.

Like Lewsey, she plays her rugby for Wasps, one of six team-mates in the World Cup party, the most from any club.

This time we have a bit more strength in every area and we have had more time together

England centre Sue Day
Four years ago Day scored a World Cup hat-trick of tries in a semi-final win over Canada before final disappointment, but is confident England can go one better this time.

"Of course we can win it," she said. "Clearly New Zealand have set the benchmark and have been unbeaten for a very long time.

"But there will be a lot of other good sides out there. Canada are at home, Australia are always strong, and the USA and France (both in England's group) can put in a performance.

"We have to give these teams respect but we are also very confident. We will be going out there with a huge amount of self-belief."

England open their campaign against the USA on 31 August, before taking on South Africa (4 Sep) and France (8 Sep).

If all goes to plan, the semi-finals follow on 12 September with the final at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on 17 September.

Danielle Waterman in action for England against France
Danielle Waterman is one the squad's brightest stars
"Four years ago we had a strong squad but I think this time we have a bit more strength in every area and we have had more time together," Day says.

"We have a good blend of experience and youth and some really exciting young players.

"The skills of people like Danielle Waterman, and Kim Shaylor and Charlotte Barras in our back three, are phenomenal.

"Shelley (Rochelle) Clark at prop is also a phenomenal athlete and then you have the older heads like "Yappy" - captain and scrum-half Jo Yapp - who lead brilliantly from the front."

Day, who only discovered rugby as a 19-year-old during a year spent in Spain while at Oxford University, acknowledges she is "one of the old guard".

The World Cup will "almost certainly" be her swansong in the sport, and she would like nothing more than to be part of a triumph that introduced rugby to a new generation of women.

"I would very much like to finish my career with the chance to hold the World Cup aloft, that is for sure."

England Women announce Cup squad
03 Jul 06 |  Internationals
England Women clinch Grand Slam
18 Mar 06 |  Internationals
Black Ferns too good for England
27 Oct 05 |  Internationals
Black Ferns cruise to England win
22 Oct 05 |  Internationals

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