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Women primed for Rugby World Cup kick-off in England

18 August 10 15:06 GMT

Hosts England aim to deny New Zealand a fourth consecutive crown as the sixth Women's Rugby World Cup prepares for kick-off in Guildford on Friday.

The Six Nations champions, who won a fourth Grand Slam in five years this year, will hope to reverse their 2006 final loss to the Black Ferns.

Wales will meet the defending champions in the group stages after taking on Australia and South Africa first.

Scotland face Canada, France and Sweden while Ireland are in England's group.

The meeting between the hosts and the Irish will conclude the opening round of matches, with head coach Phillip Doyle's team keen to put a spanner in the English works.

"It is a fixture that we've been looking forward to ever since it was announced," said Ireland flanker Claire Molloy.

"To beat the hosts in their first game and on live TV is the start we're aiming for. It's achievable, we know that. It is the kind of match every player relishes, the chance to do something amazing."

England have been in four of the previous five finals, winning the tournament in 1994, but lost out to New Zealand in the past two finals.

They beat the Black Ferns for the first time since 2001 when they met at Twickenham in November to raise the profile of the women's game in England.

And captain Catherine Spencer hopes a successful tournament on home soil will give it another boost.

"I think it's in a pretty healthy place at the moment but we want to get it even healthier in England - and obviously we'd like to win the World Cup," she said.

"If we can do that on home soil, I think that'll take women's rugby in England to another level again."

Number eight Spencer is part of a formidable back-row trio that includes flankers Maggie Alphonsi and Heather Fisher. England's experienced pack also boasts hooker Amy Garnett, who will be playing in her fourth World Cup.

England also have exciting runners out wide in Charlotte Barras, Danielle Waterman and 20-year-old Emily Scarratt, who has earned 18 caps and scored 16 tries.

As for New Zealand, they are without versatile back Amiria Rule, a star of the last World Cup in Canada, because of a knee injury.

Rule's place in the squad has been taken by 45-year-old fly-half Anna Richards, the most capped player in the history of the Black Ferns. She made her debut in 1990 and was a key figure in their three successive World Cup wins.

Monalisa Codling is the only other member of the squad to have played in all three previous triumphs, while four other players - Fiao'o Faamausili, Victoria Heighway, Emma Jensen and Casey Robertson - will be aiming for a hat-trick of titles.

The defending champions include one uncapped player, centre Trish Hina, who has already represented New Zealand in rugby league.

They are led by Melissa Ruscoe, who has also captained the New Zealand women's football team and their rugby sevens side.

"We are in a physical pool but in a tournament like this you have to beat all the teams at some point," Ruscoe said as she contemplated matches against group opponents South Africa, Australia and Wales.

"I think facing them in our pool is going to stand us in good stead for later in the competition."

She expects England to be strong, too. "They have a lot of resources and professionalism within their team and it is a home tournament for them so they will come out firing," she said.

After beating England for the first time in the 2009 Six Nations and winning the Triple Crown, Wales finished bottom of this year's competition.

But coach Jason Lewis is upbeat about the prospect of facing all three southern hemisphere powers in the group stages, starting with Australia on Friday.

"People may say it is a 'group of death' but we have got a great opportunity to play some of the best sides in the world and turn them over," Lewis told BBC Sport Wales.

"Looking back, the Six Nations was probably the best thing that could have happened as it made us re-focus on what is important and it has grounded us.

"We are stronger as a team now than we have been for a long time and, technically and tactically, I think we will be there or thereabouts."
Scotland will open the tournament with similar hopes of upsetting the odds. They take on 2006 semi-finalists Canada before facing third seeds France in their second match.

Captain Lynne Reid told BBC Sport: "We are well aware that Canada come into the competition seeded fourth but I believe we are as well prepared as we possibly could be and and confident going into the first match.

"As a squad, we have set our sights on improving on our performance from four years ago."

All 12 teams in the World Cup - with inaugural winners and three-time finalists the USA and Kazakhstan completing the line-up - will play five games in total, three group games followed by two lots of play-offs to determine overall rankings.

The group matches and play-off games take place at Guildford's Surrey Sports Park, with the semi-finals - on 1 September - and final - on Sunday 5 September - being staged at the Twickenham Stoop.

More information on the Women's Rugby World Cup

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